Posted Jan. 14, 2008 – Ever notice how every time you go to the doctor’s office — even if it’s for a sprained ankle — that someone puts a cuff on your arm and measures your blood pressure? That gives you an idea of how widespread the problem of high blood pressure, or hypertension, has become — and how seriously health professionals take it.
But for most of us, it’s easy to ignore hypertension, because it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms.
As many as one in four Americans has high blood pressure, but it takes an especially heavy toll on African-Americans, affecting approximately one in three of us. Compared with other racial or ethnic groups, we tend to get it at younger ages and it affects us more severely. Having high blood pressure greatly increases your chances of developing heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure — especially if you have other risk factors, such as obesity, smoking, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
This doesn’t have to be. As dangerous as it is, high blood pressure can easily be brought under control. Sometimes it can even be prevented. Best of all, some of the most powerful weapons against it are things that you can do for yourself. Here’s how to get started.
The power of numbers
The most important step in fighting high blood pressure is to know your numbers. If you haven’t had a blood pressure check in the past year, make an appointment today! Since high blood pressure is a silent killer that usually doesn’t cause symptoms, the numbers are often your only warning.
Your blood pressure reading consists of two numbers: systolic pressure (the force blood exerts against artery walls, measured when your heart has just finished pumping) and diastolic pressure (the force measured between heartbeats as your heart fills with blood). A reading is expressed as a fraction: Systolic/Diastolic, expressed in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.
If either of your blood pressure numbers is higher than this amount, your doctor will probably recommend lifestyle changes like healthier eating and exercise habits, quitting smoking or losing weight if you need to. In some cases, blood pressure-lowering drugs might be added to the mix. Because high blood pressure affects so many African Americans, the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks (ISHIB) recommends doctors start treating blood pressure problems earlier and more aggressively, so you may need to take one or more medications.
Turn down the pressure by turning up your healthy living habits:
Power against pressure
No matter what your blood pressure numbers are, you have the power to make them better. Work with your doctor to stay on top of your eating and exercise habits and medications and to follow your progress. It all starts with knowing those numbers…after all, knowledge is power!
For more on how to keep your pressure in check, check the American Heart Association's Web site.