Recently diagnosed with high blood pressure? Here's what you need to know.
There's no doubt about it: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is extremely common—in fact, one out of every three U.S. adults has it. You may be thinking, "But I live a healthy lifestyle, surely I can't be at risk!" Unfortunately, it's not that black and white when it comes to a high blood pressure diagnosis. While living a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, and operating under a lot of stress are all risk factors, so is your age. Basically, if you're in your 60s and 70s, you're at a higher risk than your younger counterparts for developing hypertension because of your age alone.
So, what's a person to do?
Let's start with what you shouldn't do: ignore a high blood pressure diagnosis. When your blood pressure is under control, your heart is healthy and happy. Alternatively, when your blood pressure is high and untreated, your risk of stroke, kidney damage, and heart disease goes up. So don't get upset about your diagnosis, instead look at it for the blessing it is, because hypertension—sometimes dubbed the "silent killer"—is something that many people unknowingly have, as its symptoms are either absent or so minor they're written off completely.
And like with anything in life, once you know what you're up against, you have the power to take it head-on. Here are six steps you can take to keep your heart healthy—especially after a high blood pressure diagnosis:
1. Watch the Salt
Learning to quit reaching for the salt shaker is step one. Step two is getting familiar with the sodium content of the foods you're eating. Because most sodium in the American diet comes from processed foods, be sure to read labels closely after a high blood pressure diagnosis, especially when choosing frozen dinners and canned soups, which both tend to be very high in that department. Opting for more fresh foods in your diet—say "yes" to fruits and vegetables—and fewer prepackaged ones can help you cut down on salt dramatically.
2. Get Moving
Even a relatively small amount of exercise, like taking a 30-minute walk most days of the week, can help improve your heart's health and improve your blood pressure. If you're currently not very active, make sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new regimen. If you get the OK, look for an exercise that you actually enjoy so it doesn't feel like a workout. Yoga, swimming, biking, and—yes—household chores are all great ways to get moving toward better heart health.
3. Quit Smoking
This single lifestyle change is one of the best things you can do for your blood vessels and your overall health, too. The best part? It's never too late to give up smoking. And once you do, potential health advantages include lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
4. Tell Your Doctor If You Snore
As much as those in bed with you may try, snoring is something you shouldn't just ignore. Sleep apnea—a disorder in which you stop breathing for several seconds at a time during the night—is easy to mistake for simple snoring, but when ignored it may lead to high blood pressure or heart problems, largely due to the sudden loss of oxygen flow to your brain.
A simple sleep study can determine whether or not you have it, so talk to your doctor about setting one up. The sooner you get a proper diagnosis, the sooner you'll have access to treatment which can help lower your blood pressure and allow you to get a sound sleep.
5. Stay on Top of Your Numbers
According to the Mayo Clinic, any reading above 130/80 is considered high blood pressure, but whether or not you need to be treated with medications at this cutoff is up to your doctor. Talk with them about what your personal goals should be, as well as how often you should monitor your blood pressure—which can range from as often as daily to as little as weekly, based on your health.
There are many easy-to-use home monitors on the market; so ask your Rite Aid Pharmacist to help you select one that's best for you. Your pharmacist should also be able to show you how to use your monitor if you need help.
6. Take Any Medications as Directed
If your doctor has prescribed hypertension medications for you, be sure to take them exactly as directed. Certain groups of people, including those with diabetes, those with heart problems, and adults over the age of 65 may sometimes experience a dramatic drop in blood pressure - especially after standing up from sitting or lying position or after eating. Because of this, seniors who need hypertension medications are often started on very low doses, and, if necessary, have their dosage increased very slowly over time.
If you get dizzy, fall, or pass out while on a blood pressure medicine, tell your doctor immediately. Your dose might need to be adjusted, or you might need to try a different medication altogether.
Anytime you start a new medication—or if you have concerns about something you've been taking for a while—you should feel comfortable talking to your doctor as well as your Rite Aid Pharmacist. Your pharmacist can answer questions about what to do if you've missed a dose, whether it's OK to take your medication at a different time of day than your bottle specifies, and whether there is a generic version of a drug that would be more affordable for you. Your pharmacist can also run an interaction checker to ensure that it's not dangerous for you to combine your hypertension medications with any other drugs—be it over-the-counter or prescriptions—you might be taking.
By making small lifestyle changes and communicating with your doctor, you can easily manage hypertension while still living your very best life.
—by Barbara Brody
National Center for Biotechnology Information, Lifetime Risk of Hypertension
Heart.org, Smoking, High Blood Pressure and Your Health
Mayo Clinic, Sleep apnea
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Sleep Apnea
Mayo Clinic, Blood pressure chart: What your reading means