What is blood pressure?
Our bodies need a consistent flow of blood to survive. Blood pressure is the pressure that it takes to move this blood throughout the body.
Blood pressure results from two forces. The first force is from the heart, which pushes the blood through the arteries. The second force is from the arteries, which resist the flow of blood.
What do the numbers in my blood pressure reading mean?
The higher number is the systolic number, which represents the pressure when the heart is beating. The lower number is the diastolic number, which represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.
The systolic number is always listed before the diastolic number. For example, a blood pressure of 122/76 (122 over 76) means the systolic number is 122 and the diastolic 76.
What is high blood pressure?
A normal blood pressure reading for an adult should be less than 140 over 90. If your pressure is 130 to 139 over 85 to 89, you are borderline and should have your blood pressure checked regularly by your doctor.
If your reading is above 140/90, your blood pressure is considered high and you should be under medical care.
How do I get high blood pressure?
You may have high blood pressure and not even know it. You can have high blood pressure and never have any signs or symptoms that something is wrong. That's why it's so important to have your blood pressure checked regularly by a physician.
According to the American Heart Assn., 90 to 95 percent of all high blood pressure cases have no known cause.
Although doctors and researchers may not know the causes of high blood pressure, they have been able to pinpoint some factors that can increase the risk of high blood pressure. There are risk factors that are both controllable and uncontrollable.
Controllable risk factors
Obesity: When someone is 30 percent or more over their ideal body weight.
High salt intake: More than 2,400 milligrams a day of salt. This is equal to about 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt.
Stress: Consider stress management techniques.
Lack of exercise: Experts recommend people exercise three to four times per week for 30 minutes.
Alcohol: Consuming alcohol may lead to high blood pressure.
Uncontrollable risk factors
Race: African Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
Heredity: A history of high blood pressure in the family can increase its occurrence.
Age: High blood pressure occurs most often in people over 35.
What does high blood pressure do to my body?
High blood pressure makes the heart work harder than normal, straining the heart and arteries.
High blood pressure puts people at risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and atherosclerosis.
How can I prevent or control high blood pressure?
Try these methods:
Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you are overweight. Overweight people are two to six times more likely to develop high blood pressure.
Be more physically active. People who are physically active have a 20 to 50 percent lower risk of getting high blood pressure.
Choose foods lower in salt and sodium. Eat no more than 2,000 to 3,000 milligrams sodium a day. This includes all processed foods and salt added during cooking or at the table. The average American eats 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams sodium a day, so most people need to reduce salt and sodium consumption by about half.
Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. Men should limit their intake to no more than two drinks a day, and women to one drink a day.
Take high blood pressure pills as prescribed by a doctor.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, dried legumes and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods that is also low in sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat and total fat can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension and with "high normal" (130/85) blood pressure.
A study of 459 adults conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute showed that this kind of diet reduces elevated blood pressure.
The diet is known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH. People in the study reduced blood pressure within two weeks of beginning the DASH diet.
Here are the DASH diet's recommended daily servings:
2-3 low-fat or nonfat dairy products
7-8 grain products
6 ounces or less protein foods
The daily DASH diet allows for 3,000 milligrams sodium, 27 percent calories from fat, 6 percent calories from saturated fat, 150 milligrams cholesterol and 30 grams fiber. It also recommends four to five weekly servings of nuts, seeds and legumes.
This diet is high in potassium, magnesium and calcium, which help protect some people from developing high blood pressure.
Many fruits, vegetables, dairy foods and fish are good sources of potassium. Most diets contain enough potassium, so a supplement isn't necessary.
Magnesium supplements are also not necessary because the amount in a healthy diet is sufficient. Magnesium is found in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, dry peas and beans.
Similarly, it has not been proved that taking calcium tablets will prevent high blood pressure.
Get at least the recommended amounts of calcium: 1,000 milligrams per day for adults, 1,200 milligrams for adults over age 51. (Some groups of women need more.) Dairy foods like low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of calcium.
What should I do if I have high blood pressure?
Follow your doctor's orders. A physician can help create a dietary plan that eliminates unnecessary fats and salts.
Medication also may be an option. There are many types of medications available for high blood pressure, and your doctor will know what kind is right for you. He or she can advise you on physical activities that may help to lower your blood pressure but not exhaust you.
Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.