High Blood Pressure: Are You at Risk?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects 75 million Americans. Here is what you should know about high blood pressure to protect your heart health.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects 75 million Americans, and it's not always the ones you'd think. While some risk factors for high blood pressure are well-known, like smoking and obesity, others may actually surprise you. Here's what you should know about high blood pressure to protect your heart health.

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
Older adults are most likely to have high blood pressure, but adults of any age can develop hypertension or prehypertension. These are some factors that increase your risk of developing high blood pressure:
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Inactivity
  • Sleep deprivation
  • High-sodium diet
Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” for a reason. High blood pressure typically doesn't show any signs or symptoms until it's caused serious damage to your heart. In many cases, a heart attack or stroke is the first indication of high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, the lack of obvious symptoms leads some people with diagnosed hypertension to not take medication as prescribed. However, even if you feel fine, it's important to adhere to your treatment plan to reduce your risk of complications.

Managing High Blood Pressure
Taking medication as prescribed by your doctor is the first step toward managing high blood pressure. However, that's not all you can do for your heart health. These are some other changes you can make to prevent hypertension or manage your high blood pressure.
  • Stay Active - Meeting or exceeding the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is one of the best things you can do for your blood pressure. Exercise not only strengthens your cardiovascular system, but it also helps you sleep better and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get Enough Sleep - Poor sleep is associated with stress and weight gain, both of which increase the risk of developing or worsening hypertension. Improving sleep often requires habit changes, like cutting back on caffeine and nighttime electronics use, and may require bedroom changes like a more comfortable mattress. 
  • Watch Your Salt Intake - A high-sodium diet is linked to high blood pressure, even if the foods you eat are otherwise healthy. It's not just the salt you add to your food that can hurt your heart, however. Many foods such as canned vegetables and soups, condiments, breads, processed meats, salted nuts, frozen dinners, and even fresh and frozen meats have added sodium. Learn how to read food labels to avoid hidden sodium in your diet.
  • Eat More Potassium - You can't avoid salt entirely. To balance the sodium you consume, your body needs potassium. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, dairy, and beans are good sources of dietary potassium.
  • Drink Less Alcohol - Cutting out alcohol entirely is the best choice for people with high blood pressure, especially as alcohol can amplify medication side effects like dizziness. If you do drink, limit yourself to one drink per day if you're female and two drinks per day if you're male.
  • Manage Your Stress - Researchers are still learning about the link between stress and high blood pressure, but it's well-established that chronic stress increases your risk. If you sleep well, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet but still experience high levels of stress, you may need to tackle stress from a different angle. The American Heart Association recommends strategies for controlling stress, like improving time management, setting boundaries, and finding time to relax.
Even if you avoid every risk factor for high blood pressure, it's still possible to develop the condition. That's because hypertension is affected by genetics as well as lifestyle. Whether you think you're at risk of high blood pressure or not, make routine health screenings with your family physician a part of your heart-healthy lifestyle.

Article provided by Karen Elder, creator of Elder Wellness, a resource for those who wish to keep their minds, bodies, and spirits well. 


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