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Hypertension Basics And Hypertension Control

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
October 31, 2022
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What is hypertension

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but can damage your heart and cause health problems if it stays high.

Having high blood pressure (hypertension) puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which are two of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Risk factors for high blood pressure

Some medical conditions like diabetes or prehypertension can increase your chances of getting hypertension.

Unhealthy behaviors can also increase your risk for hypertension especially for people who have prehypertension or diabetes. Unhealthy behaviors like smoking, eating foods high in sodium or low in potassium, not getting enough physical activity, being obese, and drinking too much alcohol should be avoided, if possible.

High blood pressure is a silent killer

High blood pressure usually has no warning signs or symptoms, so many people don’t realize they have it.

There’s only one way to know whether you have high blood pressure: Have a doctor or other health professionals measure it. Measuring your blood pressure is quick and painless.

Know your numbers

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, systolic blood pressure, is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.

Blood Pressure Levels
Normal Systolic: less than 120 mmHg
Diastolic: less than 80 mmHg
Elevated Systolic: 120-129 mmHg
Diastolic: less than 80 mmHg
Stage 1 Systolic: 130–139 mmHg
Diastolic: 80-89 mmHg
Stage 2 Systolic: above 140 mmHg
Diastolic: above 90 mmHg

This chart shows different blood pressure levels. You should always aim for blood pressure below stage 2 range, but also note, if you have other chronic conditions for which high blood pressure worsens symptoms and damages organs (such as kidney disease or heart failure), you will likely need to have target in either normal or elevated range. Talk to your doctor about the blood pressure range that is right for you.

Using the DASH diet to lower blood pressure

The DASH diet involves reducing added dietary salt and sodium, while increasing dietary potassium to help control blood pressure.
You can decrease sodium by avoiding canned, preserved, and packaged foods, and avoiding adding salt, sauces and condiments to food. Opt for more natural foods instead. Increase potassium by increasing intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. With these changes, you’ll see better blood pressure in just a few weeks!

DASH diet daily goals:

  • Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings
  • Fruits: 4 to 5 servings
  • Whole grains: 6-8 servings
  • Dairy: 2-3 servings
  • Lean meats: 6 servings or less
  • Nuts, seeds: 4-5 servings per week

Takeaways

High blood pressure usually has no warning signs or symptoms, so make sure to never skip your annual physical exam. To help prevent high blood pressure, eat a healthier diet with less sodium, more potassium, and avoid unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, or drinking too much alcohol.

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