I've been getting a lot of questions lately about high blood pressure. Several friends have had disturbing results from recent checkups, and want to know what steps to take to establish control before things get out of hand.
In the not-so-distant past, the treatment preferred by patients and their doctors was just to medicate. But since every medication has some kind of side effect, current practice focuses more on reducing blood pressure by natural means, and using medication when all else fails.
Control of high blood pressure is crucial both for quality of life and control of health care costs.
The Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health points out that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for both heart disease and stroke. Almost 58 million people in the United States have high blood pressure. Each year 1.25 million heart attacks disrupt American lives. Five hundred thousand die as a result. Stroke occurs in another 500,000, producing 150,000 deaths, and long-term disability for many more.
High blood pressure is a tricky disease.
It produces no symptoms, hence it's nickname "the silent killer."
But even though you can't feel it, once you have it, it's yours for life.
Sometimes improved lifestyle habits, with or without medication, will bring blood pressure back to normal. But if you revert to old ways, blood pressure rises again.
Occasionally, people think they can stop taking their medication when their blood pressure becomes normal. Wrong. Never stop taking your medication unless your doctor tells you to stop.
The National High Blood Pressure Education Program suggests these five steps to lower your blood pressure naturally:
*Lose extra pounds. High blood pressure is twice as common among overweight people. Sometimes, losing as little as 10 pounds will bring blood pressure back to normal, even without medication. Focus on healthy eating and lose weight slowly. Develop good eating habits that will last a life time.
*Exercise regularly. Check with your doctor first, of course. Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure, and helps keep weight under control. Begin gently. Increase slowly. Work up to 30 minutes, three times a week. Walk, run, cycle, swim or workout on indoor exercise equipment. Choose whatever you like, just do it.
*Reduce alcohol intake. The more you drink, the more your blood pressure can rise. Reduce intake to no more than two small drinks a day.
*Quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes together with having high blood pressure more than triples your risk of heart attack.
*Cut back on sodium. Half of all people with high blood pressure are sodium sensitive, that is, when they reduce their sodium intake, their blood pressure comes down, often without medication.
High blood pressure is the result of faulty genetic engineering aggravated by faulty health habits.
You can't go back and choose different parents, but you can choose a new lifestyle.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.