Understanding the new blood pressure guidelines, and how to improve your numbers

Recently, the American Heart Association updated the guidelines it uses to identify hypertension, which commonly is referred to as high blood pressure.

These revisions were made in an effort to encourage more Americans to take their elevated blood pressure seriously, to see their health care provider regularly and to get treatment early.

Using the revised blood pressure parameters, the AHA now estimates that nearly half of adult Americans have hypertension, making them at risk for several serious health issues including stroke, heart disease and kidney failure.

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the artery walls as it circulates through the body. The top number of a blood pressure reading — called systolic pressure — is the pressure measurement when a heart is beating. The lower number — called diastolic pressure — is the pressure when a heart is resting.

The new AHA guidelines say a person with a top number above 130 and/or a bottom number above 80 has high blood pressure. In addition, the guidelines say people with a top number between 120 and 129 may have elevated blood pressure, and they should begin to take steps to lower their blood pressure. The association’s website, heart.org, has more information on these guidelines.

Of course, it is important that you talk with your health care provider for his or her advice about your blood pressure. Your provider can help you determine your blood pressure goals and can recommend strategies to help regulate your blood pressure. The plan that you and your provider agree on often will depend on your age, as well as your personal and family medical histories.

?Help with high blood pressure

If you would like to learn about lifestyle changes that can help control high blood pressure, plan to attend Blood Pressure Basics from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 325 Maine St. The program is free, but advance enrollment is required because of space limitations. Call LMH Connect Care at 785-505-5800 or send an email to connectcare@lmh.org to reserve your seat.

Because high blood pressure often does not cause any symptoms, it is known as the “silent killer.” The only way to know whether you have it is to have your blood pressure measured. Although one elevated reading does not necessarily mean you have hypertension, it does mean you need to monitor your blood pressure more frequently and tell your health care provider.

Though high blood pressure often doesn’t have any symptoms, there are several factors that put you at a higher risk of having it, including:

• Race, gender, advancing age and a family history of hypertension. You obviously can’t alter these.

Blood pressure categories, revised in November 2017

• Being overweight, using tobacco products, being physically inactive, eating an unhealthy diet or having high blood sugar or cholesterol levels. You can take steps to change these risk factors.

Although there is no cure for hypertension, it usually can be managed by leading a healthy lifestyle and by taking prescription medications. Always tell your health care provider and pharmacist if you are taking any over-the-counter medications or supplements, because many of them can affect blood pressure.

If you have been prescribed medication to control your blood pressure, always take it as recommended, and never quit taking any prescribed blood pressure medication without first consulting your health care provider.

Here are a few lifestyle changes you can make to help manage elevated blood pressure:

Eat a healthy diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, or DASH diet, is one example of a healthy eating plan. It is rich in vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, lean protein and whole grains. Limiting saturated fats such as those in meats or high-fat dairy also can help. Focus on decreasing the salt and added sugars in your diet. Most processed foods, such as canned or packaged convenience foods, are high in added sodium and/or sugar. The AHA recommends that all adults, and especially people who have hypertension, limit their daily salt intake to less than 2,300 mg and ideally to no more than 1,500 mg. Many fruits and vegetables contain potassium, which is thought to be helpful in lessening the harmful effects of too much salt.

Get physically active

Try to get a minimum of 150 minutes a week (and more is better) of physical activity, such as walking, cycling, swimming or yoga.

Eliminate tobacco products

Smoking can damage the walls of your arteries, potentially leading to a heart attack or stroke. Secondhand smoke exposure can have the same damaging effects.

Lose weight

Even losing a small amount of weight — 5 percent to 10 percent of your total body weight — can significantly improve your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol readings.

Limit alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. Women should have no more than one drink a day and men no more than two.

For more information about lifestyle changes or ways to manage high blood pressure, visit the American Heart Association’s website at heart.org or the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website at nhlbi.nih.gov.

— Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, MA, RN, NBC-HWC, is a wellness specialist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital who is board certified by the Mayo Clinic and the National Consortium of Health and Wellness Coaches as a wellness coach. She can be reached at aynsley.anderson@lmh.org.