Contributor: Leslie Cho, MD
About 30 percent of U.S. adults have high blood pressure – roughly 76 million Americans. It’s one of the most common diseases, but there’s still a lack of understanding about the disease.
It’s important to diagnose and treat high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension. It increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and death.
First and foremost, the optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. The top number is the systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. Pre-hypertension is systolic blood pressure 120 to 139 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure 80 to 89 mmHg.
Hypertension is diagnosed when your blood pressure is greater than 140/90 on two or more office visits after an initial screening.
However, in the European guidelines, diagnosis of hypertension is made using either ambulatory blood pressure monitoring or home blood pressure monitoring.
This approach is especially helpful for patients who have what’s called “white coat” hypertension. Some patients get very nervous, excited or agitated in the doctor’s office, and their blood pressure tends to be high. However, at home, their blood pressure may be completely normal. These patients are good candidates for home monitoring.
The risk factors for hypertension are age, obesity, a diet high in salt, alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle, personality traits, race and family history.
There are other important causes, too, such as over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (like those sold under the brand names Naprosyn, Alleve and Advil), decongestants, weight-loss medications, birth control pills and chronic pain that can increase blood pressure. Another common cause is untreated or undiagnosed sleep apnea.
If you were diagnosed with high blood pressure, what can you do to lower it naturally? Diet and exercise are key, as well as eliminating things that may be increasing your blood pressure.
That’s right: Exercise, diet and losing weight can truly lower your blood pressure. Pills are supplements, not a substitute for treating high blood pressure.
Before you add salt to your meal, think about that. The average American’s diet has 3,400 mg of sodium a day! People with blood pressure issues should ideally get around 2,000 mg a day.
A good diet to follow to lower your blood pressure is the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It’s an eating plan that emphasizes vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy, as well as whole grains, fish and reduced amounts of fat and red meat.
If you want to make an impact on your blood pressure, you also have to become a label reader.
Remember to read serving size. Ignore the percent daily value, and focus on the amount of sodium per serving.
Also, reduced sodium just means it’s 25 percent less sodium than the comparable food product.
In general, use fresh and frozen ingredients, and choose low-sodium soups, meats, cheese and condiments — ketchup has a lot of salt! Bread, too, has a lot of sodium, so be careful.
There are numerous salt-free seasonings, such as basil, cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, dill, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme and tumeric. Use those if you can.
Finally, please exercise. Losing weight and exercising consistently can lower your blood pressure by 5 to 10 mmHg.
Aim for 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week or 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week to see a benefit. Find what you like to do, and do it consistently.
There is no magic exercise; focus on what you like to do and don’t mind doing most days of the week.
This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic.