Nearly half of all adults in the United States have hypertension—the clinical term for high blood pressure.
And according to the CDC, less than 1 in 4 of those with hypertension have their condition under control.
Many people who are living with high blood pressure don’t understand much about it, or have misconceptions about what it means and how to manage it.
Here are four things everyone should know about hypertension:
Don’t Underestimate High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure typically presents without any symptoms or warning signs. Many people aren’t even aware that they have it. This lack of obvious symptoms can make it easy to underestimate the seriousness of hypertension.
When blood pressure is high, it puts a dangerous strain on your heart and blood vessels. This can lead to a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and many other health problems.
In 2020, over 670,000 deaths in the United States were attributed to hypertension as the primary or contributing cause.
High blood pressure is a serious and life-threatening condition that should not be underestimated.
Blood Pressure Readings are a Momentary Snapshot
Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers—the systolic number (the top number) and the diastolic number (the bottom number).
● Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg
● Elevated blood pressure is 120–129 / less than 80 mmHg
● Stage 1 Hypertension is 130–139 / 80–89 mmHg
● Stage 2 Hypertension is higher than 140/90 mmHg
Keep in mind that your blood pressure is not a static number. It fluctuates to some degree throughout the day, depending on things like stress levels, activity, diet, and medications. It can even be elevated more than usual due to the nervousness of being in a hospital or doctor’s office.
A single high blood pressure reading doesn’t necessarily mean you have hypertension. A diagnosis of hypertension is based on multiple readings on different occasions.
Your Diet Influences Your Blood Pressure
Although uncontrollable risk factors such as age and genetics can contribute to hypertension, diet and lifestyle choices play a big role in its development.
Clinical research has consistently demonstrated a direct correlation between meat consumption (both red meat and processed meats) and high blood pressure. This may be due to the cholesterol and saturated fat content of meat, which can contribute to atherosclerosis—hardening of the arteries.
Sodium (salt) intake is also a major dietary contributor to high blood pressure. Salt causes your body to retain more water, which leads to an increase in blood volume and, as a result, higher blood pressure.
You Can Lower Your Blood Pressure
The good news is that high blood pressure is largely preventable and controllable.
Two diets that have been shown to effectively lower blood pressure are the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet. Both of these diets emphasize eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while minimizing or completely avoiding red meat, processed meats, manufactured junk foods, and sugary drinks.
Exercise is another key component of lowering blood pressure. Health guidelines generally advise at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every week.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower your blood pressure to a healthy level, medications will probably be necessary.
Your doctor can collaborate with you to find the best medications and management strategies for your individual needs and priorities.
The better you can control your blood pressure, the lower your risk of developing hypertension-related health problems.