During National High Blood Pressure Education Month in May, the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute (NHBLI) is urging Americans to get their hypertension under control.
“High blood pressure affects about 50 million--or one in four--American adults,” states the NHBLI. “Of those with hypertension, about 68 percent are aware of their condition--but only 27 percent have it under control. The reasons for this include not taking drugs as prescribed and/or not taking a medication that sufficiently lowers blood pressure.”
High blood pressure is characterized by “the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood,” according to the NHBLI. The risks for coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure occur when that pressure rises and remains high.
In the United States, statistics show that 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure, and typically do not have signs or symptoms. Although blood pressure does change—for example, when the body is at rest or asleep versus during times of excitement—the damage to the body’s organs occurs when the pressure is persistently high.
The NHBLI breaks down blood pressure numbers:
- “Blood pressure is measured as systolic (sis-TOL-ik) and diastolic (di-ah-STOL-ik) pressures. "Systolic" refers to blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. "Diastolic" refers to blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.
- You most often will see blood pressure numbers written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic number, such as 120/80 mmHg. (The mmHg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood pressure.)”
- A normal blood pressure measurement is less than 120 over less than 80 for most adults (over age 18 with no short-term illness). These numbers differ for children, people with diabetes, and people with chronic kidney failure.
It's Up to You
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 67 million American adults have high blood pressure. In order to prevent serious disease, the CDC is promoting blood pressure control through lifestyle choices:
- Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be. Set a goal to lower your pressure with your doctor and then discuss how you can reach your goal. Work with your doctor to make sure you meet that goal.
- Take your blood pressure medication as directed. If you are having trouble, ask your doctor what you can do to make it easier. For example, you may want to discuss your medication schedule with your doctor if you are taking multiple drugs at different times of the day. Or you may want to discuss side effects you are feeling, or the cost of your medicine.
- Quit smoking—and if you don't smoke, don't start.
- Reduce sodium. Most Americans consume too much sodium, and it raises their risk for high blood pressure.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
- Participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.
- Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Manage stress.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink (no more than one drink each day for women and two for men).