In addition to Oncology Nursing Month, May is also High Blood Pressure Education Month. One out of three Americans has high blood pressure, and that number only increases in individuals between the ages of 45 and 64. Many people with high blood pressure aren’t even aware that there’s a problem.
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers. The first is the systolic number, which represents the pressure when the heart beats, while the second is the diastolic number, which represents the pressure between beats. Normal blood pressure is a systolic number of 120 or less and a diastolic number of 80 or less, while high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a systolic number of 140 or higher and a diastolic number of 90 or higher. A blood pressure reading in between those numbers indicates prehypertension, which may develop into hypertension if left untreated.
While family history can play a role in developing high blood pressure, so can stress, smoking, obesity, a diet high in salt, not getting enough exercise, too much alcohol consumption and certain illnesses such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease and disorders of the adrenal and thyroid glands. Very often there is no specific underlying cause, in what is referred to as essential hypertension. High blood pressure affects more men than women, and African-Americans are twice as likely to develop it as Caucasians. The health risks related to high blood pressure are numerous and can be quite serious. Untreated it may damage arterial walls, which can lead to arteriosclerosis, heart disease, kidney failure or aneurysm. High blood pressure can also damage the eyes and cause male sexual impotency. Most importantly, it’s a primary cause of heart attacks and stroke, with the risks increasing if you’re overweight, a smoker or have diabetes.
The good news is that, for all the havoc it can cause, high blood pressure is also very treatable. While chronic hypertension may require medication, it can also be treated by getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, lowering sodium intake by leaving table salt out of meals and avoiding such foods as bacon and processed lunch meats, limiting alcohol use, not smoking, reducing caffeine and being mindful of stress and anxiety levels. It’s also important to see your doctor regularly and keep track of your blood pressure at home to make sure that it’s healthy and consistent. Even just one of the tips listed can do some good, so take control of your life back from high blood pressure! It’s not as hard as you think.
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