May is High Blood Pressure Education Month

During the last decade, the number of Americans with high blood pressure has increased by 30%. About a third of American adults, estimated to be nearly 73 million, have high blood pressure, and this condition affects nearly a billion people worldwide. Also known as hypertension, it increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the U.S. About 20 to 30% of people with high blood pressure are unaware that they have it.

Blood pressure that is slightly higher than normal is known as prehypertension. Roughly 28% of American adults have this condition. People with prehypertension are more likely to develop high blood pressure than are people with normal blood pressure levels.

Blood pressure is written as two numbers. The first (systolic) number represents the pressure when the heart beats. The second (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart rests between beats. The following is a classification system for blood pressure—

Normal blood pressure

· Systolic: less than 120 mmHg and

· Diastolic: less than 80 mmHg

Prehypertension

· Systolic: 120–139 mmHg or

· Diastolic: 80–89 mmHg

High blood pressure

· Systolic: 140 mmHg or higher or

· Diastolic: 90 mmHg or higher

Risk Factors

AGE AND GENDER

Age is the largest risk factor of hypertension. Blood pressure increases with age in everyone, and the lifetime risk for hypertension is nearly 90%. Over half of Americans over age 60 have hypertension, although high blood pressure is also becoming more common in children and teenagers. Women are about as likely as men to develop high blood pressure during their lifetimes. However, for people younger than 45 years, the condition affects more men than women. For people aged 65 years and older, it affects more women than men.

ETHNICITY and RACE

Mexican-Americans have the lowest level of hypertension compared to non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans. African-Americans are far more likely to have hypertension, compared to Caucasians and other ethnic groups. Over 40% of African-American men and women have hypertension. This may account for over 40% of all deaths in this group.

FAMILY HISTORY

Those with parents or other close relatives who have high blood pressure have an increased risk of developing it themselves.

OBESITY

About a third of patients with high blood pressure are overweight. Even moderately obese adults have double the risk of hypertension than people with normal weights. Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for high blood pressure when they reach adulthood.

LIFESTYLE FACTORS

· Smoking: Cigarette smoking contributes to high blood pressure.

· Salt and Potassium: Eating too much salt (sodium) can increase your risk. Similarly, too little potassium can cause your body to accumulate too much sodium. Sodium and potassium should stay in balance.

· Alcohol. Chronic heavy alcohol use can increase blood pressure.

· Physical Inactivity. A lack of physical activity can increase the risk of becoming overweight.

· Stress. Mental and emotional stress can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. Chronic stress can lead to engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating, smoking, alcohol use, or a lack of exercise.

A diet high in sodium increases the risk for higher blood pressure. Most people eat more than double the amount of salt than they should. Current dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that adults in should take in no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. About 77% of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed and restaurant foods.

Preventing and Controlling Hypertension

· Have your blood pressure checked regularly.

· Maintain a healthy body weight

· Take at least one brisk 10-minute walk, three times a day, five days a week.

· Follow a healthy eating plan of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low in sodium.

· Quit smoking.

· If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation (no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women).

The most recent recommendations for detecting and treating high blood pressure are available from the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure of the National Heart and Lung Institutes, National Institutes of Health, available at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/.

Work to keep your blood pressure at a safe level. Do it for those you love.

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