Carmen McCarthy, APRN-BC
The next time you’re out with a group, take a look around at the adults in the room. Think you can pick out the one with a potentially life-threatening condition? Odds are one out of every three of those adults is suffering from hypertension, or high blood pressure. Not only may you not be able to pick them out, they may not realize it either.
As you imagined that group of adults, did you picture the ones with high blood pressure as the men in the group? That’s a common misconception. Hypertension hits both men and women; but starting at the age of 65, after menopause, women are more likely to suffer from this disease than men are.
Those of us who provide cardiac care refer to high blood pressure as the “silent killer” because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. That one in three adults with hypertension accounts for an estimated 70 million American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Only about half of those patients, 52 percent, have their high blood pressure under control.
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood against the walls of your arteries as the blood circulates throughout your body. It’s normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day. But, when it stays high for an extended period of time, that’s when it causes problems, including raising your risk for heart disease and stroke, both of which are leading causes of death in the United States.
Several risk factors for high blood pressure, such as your age, gender and family history, are out of your control. But there are a few risk factors you can address to improve your health.
- Get your blood pressure checked regularly, know what it is and monitor any fluctuations. You know your doctor’s office will check your blood pressure whenever you visit, but you have many other options. Your employer’s wellness program, health care fairs, local fire departments and drugstores all frequently offer blood pressure screenings.
- Watch what you eat. Low-sodium, low-fat foods are good options to fight high blood pressure. It’s much easier to do this when you cook at home where you can monitor your portions and know exactly what is going into your meal.
- Aim for 30 to 40 minutes of exercise a day, five times a week. Exercise can be anything that gets you moving, especially if you are spending a lot of time sitting at your desk at work or on your couch in front of the TV at home. Our busy schedules can make it hard to get this much exercise; if you can only make time for 10 to 15 minutes each day, do it. Limited exercise is better than no exercise.
- Manage your stress. Studies have shown that lowering your stress will have an immediate effect on your blood pressure. So, if you can’t get out and exercise, find a hobby you enjoy.
Hypertension is manageable and treatable, but first you have to know you have it. Check with your doctor to see if you’re at risk, and then work to stay healthy.
Carmen McCarthy, APRN-BC, is an adult nurse practitioner with cardiac and primary care experience. She practices at St. Anthony’s Heart Specialty Associates and is a member of the American Society of Hypertension.