Everyone has some blood pressure, so that blood can get to all of the body’s organs.
Usually, blood pressure is expressed as two numbers, such as 120/80, and is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
The first number is the systolic blood pressure, the amount of force used when the heart beats.
The second number, or diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure that exists in the arteries between heartbeats.
Because blood pressure changes often, your doctor should check it on several different days before deciding whether it is too high.
Blood pressure is considered “high” when it stays above prehypertensive levels over a period of time.
Step 1: You need to understand your risk
It’s important to understand what each of these categories means. High blood pressure, of course, increases heart disease risk more than any other category.
But many people don’t realize that the second category—prehypertension—also increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.
To the extent possible, everyone should aim for normal blood pressure levels.
Be aware, too, that a high systolic blood pressure level (first number) is dangerous.
If your systolic blood pressure is 140 mmHg or higher, you are more likely to develop cardiovascular and kidney diseases even if your diastolic blood pressure (second number) is in the normal range.
After age 50, people are more likely to develop high systolic blood pressure. High systolic blood pressure is high blood pressure.
If you have this condition, you will need to take steps to control it. High blood pressure can be controlled in two ways: by changing your lifestyle and by taking medication.
Step 2: Change your lifestyle
If your blood pressure is not too high, you may be able to control
it entirely by losing weight if you are overweight, getting regular physical activity, cutting down on alcohol, and changing your eating habits.
A special eating plan called DASH can help you lower your blood pressure.
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” The DASH eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
It is rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber. It is low in saturated and total fat and cholesterol, and limits red meat, sweets, and beverages with added sugars.
If you follow the DASH eating plan and also consume less sodium, you are likely to reduce your blood pressure even more. Sodium is a substance that affects blood pressure.
It is the main ingredient in salt and is found in many processed foods, such as soups, convenience meals, some breads and cereals, and salted snacks.
Step 3: Take medication if you need
If your blood pressure remains high even after you make lifestyle changes, your doctor will probably prescribe medicine. Lifestyle changes will help the medicine work more effectively.
In fact, if you are successful with the changes you make in your daily habits, you may be able to gradually reduce how much medication you take.
Taking medicine to lower blood pressure can reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
If you take a drug and notice any uncomfortable side effects, ask your doctor about changing the dosage or switching to another type of medicine.
A recent study found that diuretics (water pills) work better than newer drugs to treat hypertension and prevent some forms of heart disease.
If you’re starting treatment for high blood pressure, try a diuretic first. If you need more than one drug, ask your doctor about making one of them a diuretic.
If you’re already taking medicine for high blood pressure, ask about switching to or adding a diuretic.
Diuretics work for most people, but if you need a different drug, others are very effective. To make the best choice, talk with your doctor.
A reminder: It is important to take blood pressure medication exactly as your doctor has prescribed it.
Before you leave your doctor’s office, make sure you understand the amount of medicine you are supposed to take each day, and the specific times of day you should take it.