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Just Two Numbers Can Say So Much About Your Health

In North Carolina, approximately 2.7 million adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (HBP), or hypertension, by a health care professional. An additional one in three may be at risk for the condition. HBP causes or contributes to at least one in four deaths in our state each year. High Blood Pressure Education Month, recognized since 1974, aims to save lives by increasing awareness and education about cardiovascular risks and how to prevent them.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure refers to the force with which blood pushes against arterial walls each time the heart beats. Blood pressure is comprised of two data pieces: Systolic and diastolic pressure.

Systolic Pressure: Blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood.

  • Less than 120: Normal.
  • 120-139: Pre-hypertension
  • 140-159: Stage 1 HBP.
  • 160 or more: Stage 2 HBP.

Diastolic Pressure: Pressure when the heart is at rest.

  • Less than 80: Normal.
  • 80-89: Pre-hypertension.
  • 90-99: Stage 1 HBP.
  • 100 or more: Stage 2 HBP.

High blood pressure results when one or both of these numbers increases above healthy standards.

The Dangers of High Blood Pressure

HBP puts your health and quality of life in serious danger. Left uncontrolled or undiagnosed, HBP can lead to:

  • Heart attack: HBP damages arteries that can become blocked and prevent blood from flowing to tissues in the heart muscle.
  • Stroke: HBP can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst or clog more easily.
  • Heart failure: The increased workload from HBP can cause the heart to enlarge and fail to supply blood to the body.
  • Kidney disease or failure: HBP can damage the arteries around the kidneys and interfere with their ability to effectively filter blood.
  • Vision loss: HBP can strain or damage blood vessels in the eyes.
  • Sexual dysfunction: This can be erectile dysfunction in men or lower libido in women.
  • Angina: Over time, HBP can lead to heart disease or microvascular disease. Angina, or chest pain, is a common symptom.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD): Atherosclerosis caused by HBP can cause a narrowing of arteries in the legs, arms, stomach, and head, causing pain or fatigue.

Hypertension can also cause other problems. When your blood pressure is too high for too long, it damages blood vessels—and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol begins to accumulate along tears in your artery walls. This increases the workload of your circulatory system while decreasing its efficiency. As a result, HBP puts you at greater risk for the development of life-changing and potentially life-threating conditions.

Know Your Numbers

The National Institute of Health reports that everyone age 3 or older should have their blood pressure checked by a healthcare provider at least once a year. Your nurse or physician will use a blood pressure test to see if you have consistently high readings. Even small increases in systolic blood pressure can weaken and damage blood vessels. Your doctor will recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes to help control your blood pressure and prevent the development of HBP.

Three Tips to Prevent HBP

Skip Sodium

Reducing your intake of sodium (salt) greatly reduces your chance of developing HBP according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) backs up this claim, asserting that, “Most Americans consume too much sodium and it raises blood pressure in most people.”

Cutting back on frozen, canned, and restaurant foods (huge sources of sodium), can dramatically reduce the salt in your diet. You should also be checking the Nutrition Facts panel on all the foods you buy so you’re able to choose options with less salt. Remember, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises people to “reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.”

Eat More Fruits & Vegetables

Replacing sodium-rich foods with fresh fruits and vegetables isn’t the only way to reduce your risk of hypertension. In fact, the CDC counsels people to “eat a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol” to reduce their risk of HBP. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with healthful nutrients that reduce the risk of chronic disease, help with weight control, and even manage blood sugar.

According to the recently-conducted Ohasama study, “It’s well recognized that high fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with a reduction of blood pressure measured by conventional measurement in Western countries.” After processing the data collected, the authors of the study concluded “high-level consumptions of fruits, vegetables, potassium, and vitamin C are associated with a significantly lower risk of hypertension.” Do yourself a favor and incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your daily routine.

Stay Active

“Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get one hour of physical activity every day,” writes the CDC.

It’s simple: Being physically active can help you reduce your risk of hypertension in two ways—by directly helping lower your blood pressure, and by helping you manage your weight, which is another high blood pressure risk factor. At your next visit, talk with your doctor about fun ways to get active.

For more information, visit To make an appointment for a blood pressure check call Coastal Carolina Health Care’s New Bern Family Practice at (252) 633-1678.

(Sources: American Heart Association; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute of Health; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Food and Health Communications, Inc.; Million Hearts, and Start With Your Heart.)