A recent study shows how to reduce risk of heart problems
A long-term study on high blood pressure in more than 9,000 people in their
fifties and older was halted recently because of an overwhelming, positive
discovery: when the study participants lowered their systolic blood pressure
number (the top number in a blood pressure reading) to 120 instead of
the typically recommended 140, their risk of heart attack, heart failure
and stroke was reduced by a third, and risk of death was reduced by almost
The head of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute called the study
data potentially lifesaving, and it’s easy to see why.
“When high blood pressure is not controlled, it can cause stroke,
heart failure, heart attack,” says
Julie Vu, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Garden Grove. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause other problems
too, Dr. Vu says, including kidney damage and loss of vision. About 80
million adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (also called
hypertension), according to the American Heart Association.
High blood pressure is a stealth disease—it can go undetected for
years because it causes few or no symptoms. That’s why regular check-ups
are important. “The guidelines for everyone, starting at age eighteen,
is to have blood pressure checked every two years,” says Dr. Vu.
Some risk factors for high blood pressure can’t be changed: People
older than 55 tend to have higher blood pressure, as do African Americans
and people with kidney disease. “But other factors, such as being
overweight, causes high blood pressure too,” Dr. Vu says, and this
is well within a person’s control to change.
A diagnosis of high blood pressure can be frightening, but health care
providers can recommend appropriate medications as well as diet and exercise
adjustments. “Just because you’re diagnosed with high blood
pressure doesn’t mean you can’t change your lifestyle,”
says Dr. Vu. “This means eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly,
reduce stress, eliminate alcohol and stop smoking.”
Consuming high amounts of sodium is another culprit in high blood pressure,
and people with high blood pressure can change this by checking nutrition
labels on food. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less
than 1,500 mg of salt per day, but many people eat far more than on a
daily basis without even realizing it. “Packaged foods, fast food,
going out to eat at restaurants,” says Dr. Vu, all contribute to
high sodium intake. The American Heart Association warns that “The
Salty Six” add sodium to the typical American diet:
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Canned soup
- Sandwiches prepared at a fast food restaurant
Taking the challenge to lower high blood pressure can be lifesaving —
and improve a person’s quality of life along the way.
Dr. Vu recalls that while working in a clinic where many patients were
diagnosed with high blood pressure, she saw some of them bring it down
by working hard to change their lifestyle. “Just by walking thirty
minutes a day and eating more fruits and vegetables, they were able to
drop their blood pressure and even get off meds,” she says. “It
will make you feel better anyway, to get moving and not sit in front of
TV or internet,” she says.
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(This article originally appeared in OC Catholic in September, 2015)
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.