Sandy Tschosik, RN
St. Alexius’ Community Health Services Coordinator
Blood pressure (BP) is a measure of the force of blood against the walls of arteries. Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers: systolic (top number) over diastolic (bottom number). The systolic number represents the pressure when the heart beats and the diastolic number is the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats. Without blood pressure, blood would not be able to circulate, and the cells of our body would be deprived of the oxygen and nutrients required for survival. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can interfere with circulation, so it is important to keep your BP within a healthy range.
According to the American Heart Association, a normal BP for adults 18 years of age and older is below 120/80. A systolic reading of 120–139 and/or a diastolic reading of 80–89 is considered pre-hypertension. High blood pressure is classified as a systolic reading of 140 or higher and/or a diastolic reading greater than or equal to 90.
About 70 million people in the United States have pre-hypertension. Studies conclude that pre-hypertension increases the risk of developing high blood pressure. Both pre-hypertension and high blood pressure increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Prevention efforts must start early, as pre-hypertension also is a significant issue in the young due to the increased prevalence of overweight children.
There are no symptoms of pre-hypertension, but there are risk factors. You may be at risk if you have a family history of high blood pressure, are overweight, do not exercise, smoke or consume too much alcohol or foods high in sodium. The only way to determine whether or not you have pre-hypertension is to have your blood pressure measured. If you have been told that you have pre-hypertension, start making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.
Follow a diet that helps reduce blood pressure and control weight. One such diet is the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods high in cholesterol and saturated and trans-fats, which increase blood cholesterol levels. Eat more whole grains which are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Reduce sodium intake, and use herbs and spices to season your food. Choose lean sources of protein such as fish and skinless chicken and fat-free or low fat dairy products. Reduce your intake of red meat, sweets and sugared beverages.
Get active. Exercise helps you reach and stay at a healthy weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and prevent or control diabetes, which, in turn, reduces your risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease. Talk to your healthcare provider about what exercises are safe for you and how much exercise you should get.
If you consume alcohol, limit your intake to one drink per day for women and two for men (one drink equals 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine). Excess alcohol can raise blood pressure as well as cause damage to the brain, heart and liver. Finally, quit smoking.
Pre-hypertension is a warning sign that signals it’s time to make some changes. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.