Is high blood pressure on your mind? Maybe you’re thinking something like this:
George has that problem. Not me. I’ll beat the odds.
It’s inevitable, so why bother?
or even …
I feel fine. I’ll worry about it next year.
Here’s a new thought to consider: Rationalizing and procrastinating can leave you with serious health problems. That’s because high blood pressure is a silent killer and a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
“You don’t feel it until you have a stroke or a heart attack,” said Gerald Fletcher, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, in Jacksonville, Fla. “High blood pressure is painless — but deadly.”
High blood pressure, which affects almost 75 million Americans, makes your heart work harder than it should have to, causing it to thicken and become stiffer. It also increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, vision loss, erectile disfunction, kidney failure and congestive heart failure.
“Short term, high blood pressure can cause an acute, hemorrhagic stroke, and you may be paralyzed from it,” said Fletcher, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer. “Over time — anywhere from four to 10 years — high blood pressure can lead to an enlarged heart, which can cause a heart attack.”
That’s why prevention of high blood pressure and early intervention are so important. Early on, high blood pressure is highly treatable. “We have wonderful drugs to treat high blood pressure, and not all of them are expensive,” Fletcher said. “Simple diuretics can help.”
So how do you get started when you want to get your blood pressure under control?
“It’s different for everyone,” Fletcher said. “First, assess where you are — and figure out what you need to do next.” You can read more about the path to healthy blood pressure. Here is some more advice for getting on the right track:
- Don’t ignore the risks. Some people don’t get inspired to make a change until they see a stroke ravage a beloved uncle. For others, it’s a big birthday: “I’m 50 now; I’ve got to get healthy.” Don’t wait for a tragedy or a special occasion. Make the decision to get healthier today; you won’t regret it.
- Keep things in check. Checking your blood pressure and keeping tabs on your cholesterol should top your to-do list. If you use an at-home blood pressure test, make sure you do it correctly. “Fire stations are great places to get your blood pressure checked, and a simple finger stick can give you a lipid profile for a cholesterol reading,” Fletcher said. Health fairs offer screens for both blood pressure and cholesterol. Go here to understand what your blood pressure reading means. Learn why cholesterol matters.
- Know the high blood pressure risk factors that you can control. They are: sedentary or inactive lifestyle, heavy alcohol consumption, excess sodium (salt) ingestion , obesity and being overweight, family history and advanced age.
- Look at your lifestyle. Is your arm on auto-reach when it comes to the salt shaker? Most Americans consume far more salt than they should. Learn how to shake your salt habit. It’s also important to follow a healthy diet and get at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per week.. Take it day by day. Perfection isn’t important; just get started!