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Control the 'silent killer'

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POSTED: June 7, 2007 5:02 a.m.
High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure, according to studies supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The adverse effects were true for both men and women and at all ages, although it was especially high for those age 65 and older.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. It is recorded as two numbers-the systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats).  A blood pressure measurement of 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) is expressed verbally as “120 over 80.” For diagnostic purposes, blood pressures 140/90 or over are considered high.
The causes of high blood pressure vary and may include narrowing of the arteries, a greater than normal volume of blood or the heart beating faster or more forcefully than it should. High blood pressure may also be caused by another problem — such as kidney disease — but most of the time, the cause is unknown. Although high blood pressure usually cannot be cured, in most cases it can be prevented and controlled.
It is common and more than 50 million American adults (or 1 in 4) have high blood pressure. It is especially common in African Americans. Many Americans tend to develop high blood pressure as they age, but this is not necessarily a part of healthy aging.
About 60 percent of Americans, age 60 and older, have high blood pressure. Others at risk are the overweight, those with a family history of high blood pressure, and those with high normal blood pressure (pressures 130/85-139/89).
Anyone can develop high blood pressure, regardless of their race, age or gender and it is especially dangerous because it often has no symptoms. That is why it has been given the title “the silent killer.” High blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and/or kidney disease and stroke. Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime.
High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. Very high pressure can break a weakened blood vessel, which then bleeds in the brain. This can cause a stroke. If a blood clot blocks one of the narrowed arteries, it can also cause a stroke.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack. The arteries bring oxygen-carrying blood to the heart muscle. If the heart cannot get enough oxygen, chest pain, also known as “angina,” can occur. If the flow of blood is blocked, a heart attack results. Another serious condition, congestive heart failure is also caused from high blood pressure. In fact, high blood pressure is congestive heart failure’s number one risk factor.
Tips to prevent or control your blood pressure include:
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Remain active every day. Do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as walking, most days of the week and you can even break it up into three 10-minute segments.
• Choose foods low in salt and sodium.  Most Americans should consume no more than 2.4 grams (2,400 milligrams) of sodium a day.
• Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, and low fat dairy products.
• Cut back on alcoholic beverages.
• Make sure your blood pressure remains under 140/90.

Ratcliffe works for the Coastal Health District.
 

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