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"High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke," says Jayne Martin D.O., Ingham Primary Stroke Center Medical Director. "Blood pressure is the amount of force applied against artery walls as blood is pumped through the body. When your blood pressure is high, your arteries are under great stress. Over time, the arteries weaken and become a reservoir for cholesterol plaque and blood clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
"A person can feel perfectly fine, yet have a blood pressure reading that off the charts. That’s why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. A new category - prehypertension - describes blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89. If your blood pressure falls within this range, it's important to see your physician and start treatment to reduce your blood pressure. Besides medication, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce high blood pressure –
- Reduce salt in your diet;
- Walk or do other exercise activities that get your heart rate up. Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart, and burns calories.
- Lose weight if needed.
- Eat a low-fat diet.
- Quit smoking, if that applies to you.
- In individuals over 50, the systolic presure is the most important.
- If you’re on medications for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, take them every day as prescribed."
The American Heart Association lists some common misconceptions about high blood pressure –
- If you have high cholesterol, you have high blood pressure.
Not true. High blood cholesterol does not automatically link to high blood pressure. Some of the same lifestyle habits linked to high cholesterol are the same as for high blood pressure. High blood pressure can only be detected by having it checked. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, hardening of the arteries, congestive heart failure or kidney disease.
- I took my high blood pressure medication for awhile, but I’m feeling much better now. I’ve cut back on the amount of medication I take.
Very bad choice. High blood pressure is a lifelong disease. It can be controlled, but not cured. If your doctor has prescribed high blood pressure medication, take it exactly as prescribed until your doctor advises otherwise. Decreasing the dose or not taking the medication is dangerous. Even if you’ve made the recommended lifestyle changes for a healthy heart, you should continue taking your high blood pressure medication.
- I don’t have to worry about interaction of high blood pressure medication with over-the-counter drugs.
Not true. Taking certain cough, cold or flu medications can be dangerous to those taking high blood pressure medications. Decongestants have been reported to increase blood pressure, or interfere with the efficiency of the high blood pressure medication you’re taking. Talk to your physician before taking over-the-counter medications.
- High blood pressure is a man’s disease. I’m a woman, so I don’t have to worry.
High blood pressure is a disease that affects both sexes. Women should be aware that they may be at risk if they are overweight, taking birth control medications, are pregnant of post-menopausal. African-Americans, Hispanics and other individuals that have a family history of high blood pressure are more at risk.
- I don’t use that much salt. I don’t think it can affect my blood pressure.
Most individuals are unaware of how much sodium is naturally in foods. Salt holds excess fluid in your body and puts an extra strain on your heart. One of the prevention steps against high blood pressure is to substantially reduce your salt intake, particularly from prepared or "fast foods."