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Keep an eye on your blood pressure
Health advice
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February is wise health consumer month, and while there are multiple things everyone should do to stay healthy, one of the most important is to be “heart smart.” And yes, February is National Heart Month, too. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 killer of men and No. 3 killer of women.
Most of us associate high blood pressure with our older neighbors and friends, but high blood pressure (hypertension) is now commonly found in people of all ages.
No matter the age, high blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard and contributes to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Other complications associated with high blood pressure include congestive heart failure, kidney disease and blindness.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries in the body and is recorded as two numbers — the systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). The measurement is written one above the other, with the systolic number on top and the diastolic number on bottom. For example, a blood pressure measurement of 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is expressed verbally as “120 over 80.”
Many Americans develop high blood pressure as they get older, but hypertension is not a part of healthy aging. Approximately 1 in every 3 adults have high blood pressure and the condition is more common among African-Americans. Others at risk for developing high blood pressure are:
• overweight
• have a family history of high blood pressure, and
• have pre-hypertension (120-139/80-89 mmHg)
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is an effective first step in both preventing and controlling high blood pressure. Positive changes include:
• losing weight if overweight (losing 10 pounds can help)
• increasing physical activity (walking 30 minutes per day is great)
• following a healthy eating plan that focuses on fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and low-sodium foods
• drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation
• stop smoking
• seek stress relievers
• limit beverages with caffeine
As we get older, arteries throughout the body “harden.” High blood pressure speeds the hardening process, making the heart and kidneys work harder and increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure can also cause blood vessels in the eye to burst or bleed causing blurred or impaired vision or blindness.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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