If you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, you are not alone. Nearly one in three American adults has the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Many people with high blood pressure have minimal or non-existent symptoms for years,” said Kimberly Harper, MD of the Chronic Kidney Disease and Hypertension Program at Scripps Clinic. “They don’t feel it, so they don’t seek care.”
While some people suffer from secondary hypertension, which is caused by an underlying condition such as a kidney abnormality, most people have primary or essential hypertension — which tends to develop gradually over time and has no concrete cause.
“It is called a silent killer. That’s an appropriate description,” asserted Dr. Harper.
Hypertension is a major public health problem. If uncontrolled, it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease — which is the most common cause of death and disability in the United States. Beyond doing damage to the heart, the elevated force of blood pumping through the body can harm artery walls and damage other critical organs.
Dr. Harper, a nephrologist, cares for people with kidney disease — which can be an end-result of poorly controlled hypertension. She knows how the condition can progress, and what can be done to slow or even stop its course.
“When they are well-informed and aware of the problem, people who have this condition are really in the driver’s seat,” said Dr. Harper. “Prescription drugs are a mainstay of hypertensive therapy, but so are decisions. What you eat and how you live can reduce blood pressure.”
To lower the risk of complications from high blood pressure, the Joint National Committee recommends five lifestyle and dietary modifications for people with hypertension.
1. Reduce sodium intake
Put down the salt shaker, and start reading labels more carefully. Aim to consume less than 2.4 grams of sodium per day.
2. Get moving
Get 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least four days per week. You don’t need to run a marathon. But you do need to go for a walk.
3. Drink in moderation
Men shouldn’t have more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women shouldn’t have more than one.
4. Eat healthier
Consider following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. It’s rich in fruits and vegetables, high in low fat diary products and low in saturated fats.
5. Drop some weight
If you are overweight, losing just 10 pounds can reduce blood pressure.
“The best way to catch hypertension is to have regular checkups that include blood pressure monitoring,” said Dr. Harper. “If you have it, partner with a doctor to find a treatment plan. What you do now to manage your condition could help you live a better quality of life later.”