High Blood Pressure Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke—Here's How to Lower Yours
High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other serious health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Controil and Prevention. It has also been linked in middle age with poorer cognitive function and development of dementia later in life. High blood pressure can damage your blood vessels, which lowers the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. But high blood pressure has few or no symptoms and develops over time as a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, chronic disease, genetic predisposition and other factors. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to lower your blood pressure and mitigate the risk of serious illness or even death.
Talk to Your Doctor
The first step is to consult your doctor and have your blood pressure checked at least every two years, starting at age 18, the Mayo Clinic advises. If you're over 40 or have a high risk of high blood pressure, ask for a check annually.
Your doctor will work with you to develop a plan to get your blood pressure under control, according to the American Heart Association. That plan may include changes in your lifestyle or medicine to manage your blood pressure.
Change Your Lifestyle
Be physically active. The CDC recommends moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or bicycling, at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Eat a healthy diet that limits the amount of sodium and includes fruit and vegetables. The government has developed a diet plan specifically to manage blood pressure called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese as determined by your body mass index increases your risk for high blood pressure.
Manage stress in your life and get enough sleep. Make time to unwind; take deep breaths, stretch or meditate; do activities you enjoy; and connect with others.
Eliminate Bad Habits
Quit smoking. Quitting will lower your risk for heart disease and other illnesses as well as lowering your blood pressure.
Limit your intake of alcohol, which can raise blood pressure. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should have no more than one, the CDC recommends.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure
The American Heart Association has guidelines on how to keep track of your blood pressure at home with a simple cuff, called a sphygmomanometer.
It's important to measure your blood pressure since most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels.
Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg or lower. Anything higher than that over time is cause for concern, and you should consult your doctor.
Follow your doctor's directions closely, especially if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes. About six out of 10 people with diabetes also have high blood pressure.
If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels and talk with your doctor about treatment options.
Also be consistent in taking any medicines your doctor prescribes to treat your high blood pressure or other health conditions, and never stop taking your meds without talking to your doctor or pharmacist first.