If 50 million Americans have high blood pressure, what are your odds of becoming one of them? Even the researchers at the National Mean, Lung, and Blood Institute didn’t know, so they utilized their own Framingham Heart Study to find out, following 1298 subjects ages 55 and older for 22 years.
The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicate that the “residual lifetime” chance of developing hypertension-a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, strokes kidney failure and premature death-is 90 percent. Other disheartening statistics: The majority of Americans with hypertension are receiving inadequate care or none at all, while one-third of them don’t even know they have it.
The danger doesn’t just kick in when you reach your middle years. Age plays a big part, of course, as do genetics, race and obesity. But hypertension can strike the youngest and fittest of us. And it’s a silent disease. By the time symptoms show up, much damage has already been done.
Blood pressure readings are made up of two components, systolic and diastolic which measure, respectively, the pressure of blood in the vessels when the heart contracts, and then when the heart is at rest. Both aspects are important. The optimal rate is 120 systolic over 80 diastolic, while 129/84 is normal. Stage I hypertension starts at 340/90. When the gap between the two numbers-called the pulse pressure-hits 60 or more, it also becomes a significant indicator of stroke risk. Because your pressure can fluctuate for a variety of reasons, diagnoses of hypertension, especially mild cases, should he based on several readings from more than one exam.
There are six classes of medications designed to control blood pressure: diuretics, beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, vasodilators and calcium channel blockers. But you don’t have to camp out at Rite Aid to start bringing your numbers down.
- Moderate exercise relaxes artery walls: At least 45 minutes of cardio three times a week is recon~ mended; such a session can immediately decrease blood pressure for up to 16 hours. But don’t overdo it. One study found that seven-plus hours of jogging per week am backfire by increasing blood pressure.
- Monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, can reduce or even eliminate the need for hypertension drugs.
- Whole oats help control blood pressure better than other grains. As a bol2us, they lower cholesterol and blood sugar.
- Potassium-rich foods (bananas, fruit juices, mushrooms, whole-grain cereals) aid in the excretion of sodium, which can upset your body’s fluid balance. Cut your sodium intake to 2400 milligrams or less per day, slightly `tore than one teaspoon of table salt.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish such as salmon and trout, can lower cholesterol and lessen blood pressure.
- Vitamin C in modest daily doses (500 mg) has been shown to help those with moderate hypertension. So has aspirin. Talk to your doctor, which you can do while you’re having your annual pressure check.