Thursday, May 26, 2011

Risks of hypertension, rewards of healthy living

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the leading contributors to Americans developing heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Today, 74 million Americans suffer from hypertension, including an astounding 50 percent of Alaska Native and American Indian elders (age 55 and older). Although this can be a deadly disease, hypertension can be detected and treated with your awareness and the help of your doctor.

May is National Hypertension Awareness Month and a perfect time to learn more about high blood pressure. By finding out if you are at risk for developing high blood pressure and understanding the things you can do to keep your blood pressure controlled, you can help prevent some of the disease's devastating consequences.

Hypertension is a commonly misunderstood disease. Many of us may think that only people who are stressed out or anxious get high blood pressure. But in fact any of us, even if we are extremely calm and relaxed, are at risk for developing high blood pressure. Some people are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure due to their age, gender, race, lifestyle or even genetics. If you are over 50 years old, overweight, smoke, have diabetes, or drink alcohol, you may be at increased risk.

Blood pressure is a measurement of the amount of pressure pushing on the walls of your blood vessels or arteries. It's measured using two numbers: a systolic pressure, the top number, and a diastolic pressure, the bottom number. For example, you might be told at the doctor's office that you have a blood pressure of "130/80." The top number (systolic) tells you the amount of pressure on the vessels while your heart is actively pumping blood. The bottom number (diastolic) tells you the amount of pressure on the walls while your heart is relaxed.

Both numbers are important, and if elevated can signal a sign of trouble. An ideal blood pressure is 120/80, but it's important to discuss with your doctor a specific blood pressure goal for you and to find out what you can do to decrease your risk of developing or worsening your high blood pressure.

What signs or symptoms should you look out for to indicate that you have high blood pressure? There are none! Although with severely elevated blood pressure, or hypertensive crisis, you may experience vision changes, headache, and bloody nose, with most cases of high blood pressure there are no symptoms. Hypertension does the damage to your body and organs silently and you may not know there's a problem until it's too late.

The damage to your heart, lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, and brain can happen slowly or suddenly, and lead to permanent injury, disability, and even death. If untreated, even mildly elevated blood pressure can lead to these terrible consequences. This makes it important to identify high blood pressure early in its course, begin treatment and make lifestyle changes as soon as it is identified.

With your doctor's help and your own commitment, you can get control of your blood pressure. By checking your blood pressure regularly, being active, watching what you eat (low salt/low calorie diet), quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption, you can decrease your risk of serious outcomes.

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