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Health Tip: Hypertension

In the USA, it has been estimated that ten million people suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure). By definition, hypertension is blood pressure of greater than 140/90 mm Hg, or from the Sixth Joint National Commission on Hypertension a blood pressure greater than 130/90 mm Hg. The average of two or more blood pressure readings taken at two office visits can be enough to make the diagnosis of hypertension. A manual blood pressure cuff should be used as the validity of electronic blood pressure devices can be called into question.

Who is at risk for hypertension?

People who have family members with hypertension are already at greater risk and should be screened. Obesity, tobacco abuse, excessive alcohol use, sedentary lifestyle, and excessive salt intake all increase one’ s chances of developing hypertension. Certain racial groups - particularly African Americans - are prone to developing hypertension. Patients who have renal disease or are taking immunosuppressive drugs are also at an increased risk. Increasing age and history of elevated blood pressure are also risk factors.

However, one can take steps to lower his or her blood pressure. Decreasing one’s weight by as few as ten pounds can lower one’s blood pressure. Avoiding all tobacco products can significantly decrease one’s chances of developing hypertension as well as reducing the amount of alcohol consumed daily. A low sodium diet (approximately 1.5 grams) has also been shown to lower blood pressure. Regular physical activity (four or five days a week) decreases your chances of developing hypertension.

If, however, after several lifestyle modifications, your blood pressure remains elevated, you will need to be placed on an antihypertensive by your physician. The medicine chosen by your physician will be determined by other illnesses you may have: kidney disease, coronary artery disease, or diabetes for example. Again, in consultation with your physician, the decision will be made as to the most effective antihypertensive combination for you with the least amount of side effects.

Guidelines have been established for blood pressure reduction. For people with isolated hypertension, blood pressure should be less than 140/90. A blood pressure of less than 130/80 should be obtained in patients with congestive heart failure, diabetes, and kidney disease. To achieve these goals, most patients will require more than one antihypertensive.

The results of untreated or poorly treated hypertension can be devastating. One could develop coronary artery disease, strokes, kidney problems, peripheral artery disease, or exacerbation of congestive heart disease. All of these complications need not occur.

When was the last time your blood pressure was checked? It is easy to do, and it could save your life or at the very least improve the quality of it. See your primary care provider.

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