May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, so today I want to focus on high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). As serious as hypertension is, it doesn’t seem to get as much press as other health issues. But because it is so common and its consequences are so serious, it is important to understand it and know what we can do to prevent and or manage it. But before we talk about high blood pressure let’s define blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood on the walls of your blood vessels as blood flows through them. There are two numbers involved when measuring blood pressure, the top and the bottom. The top, referred to as the systolic, represents the force on the wall of the vessels when the heart contracts and pumps blood out of the heart. The diastolic, the bottom number, measures the pressure while the heart relaxes in between beats.
One third of American adults have high blood pressure. That’s 67 million Americans, and unfortunately, more than half of them do not have the condition under control. But how bad can that be, after all, those with high blood pressure often have no symptoms. BAD, in fact that is why hypertension’s nickname is the “silent killer”. Hypertension is typically associated with an increase of cardiovascular disease, specifically heart disease and stroke. More recently the association between high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia) has strengthened. Fortunately, a recent report from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that lowering blood pressure might help prevent dementia. Lowering blood pressure has also been shown to reduce the risk of stroke by 35 – 40 %, and heart attacks by 20 – 25%.
While many with high blood pressure must take medications to help bring it under control, several lifestyles can help manage blood pressure as well, including weight management, adopting a DASH eating plan ( http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf,) being physically active, and moderating alcohol intake. For more information on the significance of high blood pressure, and ways prevent and control it, check out this web site. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HighBloodPressure/.