Published in the May 2011 Boom! NC Magazine
by Whitney L.J. Howell
Before you read any further, look at the person to your right or left. Chances are, if you’re both around the same age, at least one of you has hypertension, a condition most commonly called high blood pressure.
Nearly 75 million Americans have hypertension, and the epidemic is growing rapidly. According to the American Heart Association’s Journal of Hypertension, the number of people affected by hypertension ballooned from 50 million in 1994, and since the condition is symptomless, you could be completely unaware that you have it. And, that puts you at risk for a myriad of health problems from stroke to congestive heart failure to kidney disease.
So, what exactly is hypertension? Simply put, it means your blood is pushing so hard against your arteries that it opens you up to other detrimental health issues. Your doctor determines your blood pressure level by looking at the amount of blood your heart pumps and how strongly your arteries resist that blood flow. The narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure will be.
In general, health care providers consider any blood pressure of 120/80 or lower as being normal. Patients with blood pressure of 120-139/80-89 have pre-hypertension. Anyone with blood pressure higher than 140/90 are considered to be hypertensive.
According to Romulo Colindres, M.D., director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Hypertension Clinic, developing high blood pressure is practically unavoidable if you live long enough. Even if you have normal blood pressure at age 55, if you live to be 90, there is a 90 percent chance that you will develop the condition.
Given the virtual inevitability, it’s important to know the risk factors, treatments, and research associated with hypertension so you can have an informed conversation with your doctor.
“Patients need to remember that the treatment of hypertension is really meant to avoid stroke, cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure and kidney disease,” Colindres said. “It means making some lifestyle changes and altering some daily habits.”
Thankfully, there are a number of treatments you can use to help prevent problems. Importantly, Colindres said, employ a low sodium diet in your daily routine. The average man consumes about ten grams of sodium per day, while the average woman will consume between seven to eight grams per day. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends a daily intake of six grams per day. Simply reducing sodium intake by just a single gram can have a significant impact.
Colindres said treatment for pre-hypertension is a low sodium diet, weight loss, if you are obese, exercise, and the DASH diet. The DASH diet is a low sodium plan based rich in fruits and vegetables, low fat and non-dairy and whole grain. It is a low to moderate fat diet, which is also rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. It has been proven to reduce blood pressure in studies by the National Institutes of Health and is endorsed by the American Heart Association.
People who have hypertension will only need pharmacological intervention if they have diabetes or coronary disease. Ultimately, they will need to do all these things and likely will require drugs.
Of course, the best person to ask about how you are doing and what you need is your doctor. Colindres’ biggest recommendation is having your blood pressure checked three to four times a year or more if you know you are hypertensive.
When you schedule your doctor’s appointment, go prepared. Laura Svetkey, M.D., director of the Duke Hypertension Center, and Director of Clinical Research at the Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center says there are certain types of additional information a doctor needs to know to make an assessment.
“Offer up a complete family history of medical conditions, because your doctor needs to know,” Svetkey said. “Go in with a set of prepared questions, but be aware that some things advertised as combating hypertension don’t work.”
Svetkey said natural remedies, such as blueberries or acai berries, for example, may have nominal health benefits, but do nothing toward reducing hypertension.
More research is being done on the potential contributing factors leading to hypertension, as well as ways to reduce and eliminate it. In a recent study from the University of Connecticut, researchers found that a new drug, azilsartan medoxomil, is more effective than other drugs in its class typically used to treat hypertension. Importantly, the study is the first trial of its kind to use 24-hour blood pressure monitoring to measure real-time effects of a drug.
But for all the great news in combating hypertension, problems still exist. A recent European study showed that most people with hypertension don’t follow doctor’s regulations well. Results from a European Study on Cardiovascular Risk Prevention and Management in Usual Daily Practice (EURIKA) revealed that only 38 percent of the nearly 5,600 people receiving treatment for hypertension reached their goals.
So what is your takeaway message? If you are over 55, make sure you check your blood pressure at least three to four times a year. Tell your doctor your family history. Watch how much salt you eat. Exercise regularly and change your diet to keep the weight off. Do all of that and you may be able to postpone high blood pressure until you’re 90.
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May 6, 2011 Posted by wljhowell | Education, Healthcare | American Heart Association, average sodium consumption per day, azilsartan medoxomil, chronic condition associated with high blood pressure, DASH diet, Duke Hypertension Center, high blood pressure, high blood pressure in Baby Boomers, how control high blood pressure, how develop high blood pressure, hypertension, hypertension in Baby Boomers, hypertension reduction myths, hypertension treatments, is high blood pressure inevitable, Laura Svetkey, low-sodium diet, number of American with high blood pressure, pre-hypertension, Romulo Colindres, Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sodium recommendations, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Hypertension Clinic, what blood pressure levels mean high blood pressure, what is hypertension | Leave a Comment
Who am I?
I’m a seasoned reporter, writer, freelancer and public relations specialist with a master’s degree in international print journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C. I launched my journalism career as a stringer for UPI on Sept. 11, 2001, on Capitol Hill. That day led to a two-year stint as a daily political reporter in Montgomery County, Md. As a staff writer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, a public relations specialist for the Duke University Medical Center and the public relations director for the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing, I’ve earned in-depth experience in covering health care, including academic medicine, health care reform, women’s health, pediatrics, radiology, and Medicare.
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