Blood Pressure Rising… What Can You Do?

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According to a report published in the February 12 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, rates of uncontrolled high blood pressure are on the rise in American women. Women now have higher rates of uncontrolled high blood pressure than men do in every state, and rates in men are still higher than they should be.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke—conditions for which diabetes also greatly increases risk. Hypertension is a component of the metabolic syndrome (also known as syndrome X), a cluster of interrelated conditions that raises Type 2 diabetes and heart disease risk. And controlling blood pressure levels is an important part of diabetes self-management, since having high blood pressure increases a person’s risk of nephropathy, or diabetic kidney disease.

The authors of the report in Circulation examined data from two large, ongoing studies: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. They found that uncontrolled high blood pressure—defined as the systolic (or “top”) number above 140 mm Hg—had been declining steadily for decades into the 1990’s, and continued to decline in American men, dropping from 19% to 17% between the early 1990’s and the early 2000’s. However, over that same time period, uncontrolled hypertension in American women increased from 17% to 22%.

High blood pressure rates varied by state, with the southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina, as well as the District of Columbia, having the worst rates. In these places, about 18% to 21% of men and about 24% to 26% of women had uncontrolled high blood pressure. In contrast, the lowest rates of high blood pressure were found in Vermont, Minnesota, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado. In these states, 15% to 16% of men and about 21% of women had uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Dan Jones, M.D., the president of the American Heart Association, commented that high blood pressure is “the most commonly occurring preventable risk factor for heart disease and stroke” and that “Easily applied methods for prevention and treatment are available.” But, he suggested, because the condition has few symptoms, it may not receive as much attention from people who have it and their doctors as it should. Indeed, high blood pressure is often referred to as “the silent killer.”

What steps should you take to keep your blood pressure under control?

  • Get screened for high blood pressure. Your blood pressure can be measured easily at every doctor’s visit.
  • If your results are high, talk to your health-care provider about what steps to take to bring your blood pressure into the normal range.
  • If you are prescribed medicine for your blood pressure, take it as directed. Use a pillbox, alarm, or other method to remind yourself to take it regularly if you tend to forget. If you have side effects, tell your doctor, but don’t stop taking the medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
  • Lower your salt intake. The vast majority of sodium in most people’s diets comes from processed, packaged, and restaurant foods, so read Nutrition Facts labels carefully, check sodium levels for items from fast-food and chain restaurants online or at the restaurant whenever possible, and request that no salt be added to your dishes at restaurants.
  • Get active—increasing your exercise can decrease your blood pressure.

For more ideas on ways you can lower high blood pressure, check out the blog entry “New Research Focuses on Blood Pressure Control (Part 2).”

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