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Handling a Silent Killer: Hypertension

Taking Blood PressureManaging hypertension or high blood pressure can be tough, especially during the holidays and winter months. A change in routine, family visits, traveling, illness, holiday menus, and financial concerns can all stop your best efforts at keeping high blood pressure under control. If you're one of the millions of American with high blood pressure, it's vital to keep your blood pressure stable. Drastic changes can put you at risk for heart attack or stroke.

The facts about blood pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure that is placed on the arteries. As the heart pumps blood with oxygen and nutrients out to the body, it creates pressure in the arterial system like a pipeline. Arteries carry this oxygenated blood from the heart to other organs and areas in the body. As blood pressure rises, the heart must work harder to pump blood to the body's organs. This causes strain and damage to the heart and arteries.

Blood pressure is based on two readings. The top number (systolic reading) measures the pressure as the heart contracts or beats. The bottom number (diastolic reading) is the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes between beats. In general, normal blood pressure is 120/80. However, blood pressure may change with stress or activity. High blood pressure (hypertension) is diagnosed when the top number (systolic blood pressure) is greater than or equal to 140, and the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) is greater than or equal to 90.

Are you at risk?

Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Family history of high blood pressure (mother, father, brother, or sister)

  • African American

  • Smoking

  • Diet high in salt, and fried foods

  • Overweight

  • Diabetes, heart or kidney disease

  • Increased stress

  • Greater than two alcoholic drinks/day

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • History of stroke or heart attack

Many people have hypertension and do not know it. For this reason it is often considered the silent killer. Take these steps to control blood pressure, prevent complications and lower your risk for heart disease. Work with your healthcare team in developing a healthy habits plan.

Blood pressure control plan

A good plan should include healthy eating and regular physical activity. Eat foods that are low in sodium. Skip the saltshaker and use spices instead. Do not eat foods that are high in fat and avoid fried foods. Bake, broil or grill foods and eat lean meats such as chicken or fish, whole grain cereals and breads, fresh fruits and vegetables. Learn how to read food labels. Healthy eating will reduce blood pressure and promote weight loss. Great fitness tips include walking, biking and swimming. Exercise for 30 minutes a day most days. Walk whenever you can. Through proper diet and exercise you will look and feel better and reduce stress. Also, quit smoking, limit alcohol, and reduce caffeine intake.

Sometimes healthy habits are not enough to lower blood pressure. If that's the case, your health care provider may recommend medications to lower blood pressure. Often more than one medication may be needed. It's important to take all your medications as prescribed and follow up with your health care provider regularly.

Do not let yourself become a victim of this silent killer. You can do this by making some simple changes in your life. Change your eating habits. Begin an exercise routine. Take your medicine as prescribed and you can control blood pressure and ensure a healthier tomorrow.

Read More

What is High Blood Pressure? (Veterans Health Library)

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Eating Plan (MedlinePlus)

Vitals & Readings Track your own blood pressure with My HealtheVet. (Login required)

SmokeFreeVet (VA)


Updated December 7, 2018