May doubles as National High Blood Pressure Education Month and Stroke Awareness Month. Since high blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke as well heart disease, it makes sense to observe both at the same time. Some 68 million people or 1 in 3 U.S. adults have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. A “silent killer,” high blood pressure often has no symptoms, yet can damage the heart, brain, and kidneys. Many people don’t know they have high blood pressure and even among those who do, half still don’t have it adequately controlled. Here are five steps you can take steps to prevent high blood pressure, or to treat it if it’s already high.
- Know your numbers. Get your blood pressure checked regularly. About 20% of U.S. adults with high blood pressure don’t know that they have it. The top and the bottom numbers of a blood pressure reading are the systolic and diastolic blood pressures, measured as millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The first number (systolic), measures the pressure when your heart beats and pushes blood through your body. The bottom number (diastolic), measures the pressure when the heart rests between beats. Here are important numbers:
Systolic: Less than 120 mmHg; Diastolic: less than 80mmHg
Prehypertension (“at risk”)
Systolic: 120–139 mmHg; Diastolic: 80–89 mmHg
Systolic: 140 mmHg or higher; Diastolic: 90 mmHg or higher
- Keep your weight in check and exercise. Weight loss reduces your blood pressure so maintain a healthy weight. Eating a heart-healthy diet promotes good blood pressure. Drinking too much alcohol is associated with high blood pressure. Also, regular, moderate physical activity — at least 30 minutes daily — can lower your blood pressure as well as benefit your overall health.
- Reduce your salt intake. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure and put you at risk for health problems including a dangerously overworked heart. The recommendation is 1,500 milligrams per day for anyone with high blood pressure. People with normal blood pressure and having no contraindicated health conditions should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt or about a teaspoon of salt daily.
- If you have hypertension, take your medicine as prescribed. Medicines only work if you follow medication directions. You can sign up and receive automated reminders when it’s time to refill your prescription.
- Learn more about how to live a heart-healthy life by accessing the American Heart Association’s My Life Check health assessment tool.
Many pharmacies offer free blood pressure testing. Plus you can take advantage of getting answers to your health and medicine questions from your pharmacist.