High blood pressure and high cholesterol are major risk factors for heart disease, yet many people aren’t even aware they have the condition(s).
Many people with high blood pressure are asymptomatic. Even if you feel normal every day your heart and blood vessels may be suffering damage. High blood pressure is called “the silent killer” because it usually has no symptoms. Some people may not find out they have it until they have trouble with their heart, brain, or kidneys. As many as one-third of Americans have high blood pressure, but don’t even know it.
The good news is that high blood pressure and cholesterol can be treated and controlled. There are several treatment options available. Many include making healthy lifestyle changes and some include treatment and medication prescribed by your doctor.
Q:What is high blood pressure (hypertension)?
A: Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder than normal, causes it to grow abnormally large, and puts both the heart and arteries under greater strain.
In a blood pressure reading, the first number, systolic, is the pressure while your heart beats or contracts and pumps blood out. The second, diastolic, is the pressure of the arteries while your heart rests and refills with blood. Only your doctor can tell you if you have high blood pressure. Most doctors will check your blood pressure several times on different days before deciding that you have high blood pressure. A diagnosis of high blood pressure is given if repeated readings are 140/90 or higher or 130/80 or higher if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
High blood pressure is the #1 risk factor for stroke—a leading cause of death in America. It contributes to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, dementia (a form of memory loss in older people), eye damage, and congestive heart failure.
Q: What is cholesterol?
A: Cholesterol is a yellowish-white waxy fat that is carried in the blood by lipoproteins. A total cholesterol level under 200 is desirable, and over 240 is high.
HDL, the “good” cholesterol, consists of a lot of protein and a little fat and helps protect against heart disease by carrying cholesterol away from the arteries—that’s why a high level (over 60) is desirable.
LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, is the type our bodies absorb when we eat fried and fatty foods. It contains a lot of fat, but little protein, making it an unstable compound that can break easily while traveling through your bloodstream, depositing cholesterol on arterial walls. A level below 100 is optimal, and over 160 is considered high risk.
Triglycerides, another kind of fat, also contribute to coronary heart disease. Levels under 150 are desired. Everyone age 20 and older should have their cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years. You and your doctor can discuss how often you should be tested.
Source: Mayo Clinic Recommended Cholesterol Levels
Source: American Heart Association Recommended Blood Pressure Levels
There’s a lot you can do to lower your blood pressure. In fact, many experts recommend that people with stage 1 hypertension (140/90-159/99), and no other risk factors, try lifestyle changes for a year before going on medication. By changing how they eat, drink, exercise, deal with stress, and by quitting smoking, many people have been able to reduce their risk for serious health complications.
Lose Weight. This is probably the most effective lifestyle change for lowering blood pressure. Losing even as few as 5-10 pounds reduces the workload on your heart.
Reduce Salt Intake. A diet high in salt can cause retention of fluids, which in turn may raise blood pressure levels. It’s best to keep your salt intake to less than 2,300 mg a day—or 1,500 mg if you’re age 51 or older, or if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. To get on top of salt intake, try eating whole and homemade foods, and swapping the saltshaker for spicy, no-salt herb blends. Salt alternatives containing potassium, magnesium, and less sodium may also be helpful.
Eat a Diet High in Fruit, Vegetables, Whole Grains, and Low-Fat Dairy Products. The typical American diet may be the main reason we have higher rates of heart disease and stroke than many other countries. We’ve replaced healthy whole foods with processed foods containing too much fat and salt. Research indicates that eating more foods containing potassium, calcium, magnesium, and fiber may help reduce blood pressure.
Find Regular Ways to Relax. Research has shown that stress can cause temporary rises in blood pressure and, if experienced over a long term, may result in hypertension. There are many ways to reduce stress—exercise, meditation, deep breathing techniques, yoga, and prayer are classic methods. You may also find gardening, your favorite music, hot baths, humorous books and movies, or time with friends just as relaxing.
Exercise. A moderate program of aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, bicycling, swimming, or running for 30-45 minutes most days of the week can produce a drop of about 10 points in elevated systolic and diastolic levels. It can also help you lose weight and handle stress. Consult your physician before starting a new exercise program.
Ask Your Doctor About Aspirin. Some health care professionals recommend taking a daily dose of aspirin for people with heart disease. Only take a daily dose if your doctor advises you to do so.
Take Medications if You Need Them. Finding the right medications requires patience and good communication between you and your doctor. Do not take any medications without first consulting your physician.
Limit Alcohol. Moderate drinkers (no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women) actually have lower risk for heart disease than nondrinkers. However, at higher levels, drinking aggravates hypertension, reduces your heart’s pumping ability, and interferes with the effectiveness of medications.
Quit Smoking. When a smoker lights up, their systolic blood pressure (the first number) can go up more than 20 points on average, then go back down over the next half hour. So smokers with high-normal readings actually have intermittent high blood pressure every time they smoke. Quitting isn’t easy—get help. It takes most people many attempts before they quit for good—so don’t give up! If you succeed, your risk of heart disease will be cut in half within a year.
For most, a diet high in saturated fats is the primary cause for high blood cholesterol and LDL levels. But recent research indicates that to really control the problem, you need to exercise as well as eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. Doing just one isn’t nearly as effective. Here are 8 strategies:
REDUCE TOTAL FAT INTAKE to no more than 30% of your total daily calories.
REDUCE SATURATED FAT to no more than one-third of the fat you eat. Major sources of saturated fat include butter, cheese, whole milk, cream, meat, poultry, chocolate, coconut, palm and palm kernel oil, lard and solid shortenings. Most processed foods such as cookies, crackers, and other bakery goods contain trans fatty acids which increase cholesterol. Look for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils on labels and avoid them.
REPLACE SATURATED FATS with mono-unsaturated “good” fats like olive oil, canola oil, and nuts, which can lower cholesterol. Poly-unsaturated fats like corn, sesame, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils are good too. Use these oils for cooking and salads, and always bake or broil your food rather than frying. Instead of butter or stick margarine, spread or dip your bread in olive oil.
REDUCE DIETARY CHOLESTEROL to 300 milligrams per day by avoiding dairy products made with whole milk and cream, egg yolks, and organ meats such as liver.
EAT MORE FISH. Research shows that certain fatty fish oils in the omega-3 group reduce blood cholesterol levels. Fish especially rich in omega-3 oils are salmon, tuna, mackerel, lake trout, bluefish, herring, and sardines.
EXERCISE. Aerobic exercise, along with improving your diet, can reduce your blood cholesterol levels by up to 15%. Exercise will also help you lose weight and keep it off. Talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program.
TAKE MEDS IF PRESCRIBED. If your total cholesterol, especially your LDL level, remains high despite diet changes and exercise, your doctor may recommend medications.
EAT AT LEAST 5 FRUITS AND VEGETABLES A DAY. They help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol according to a variety of studies. It appears that people who eat multiple servings of fruits and vegetables each day consume less saturated fat and have healthier diets. In addition, it also appears that fruits and veggies play an important role in lowering the risk of coronary artery disease.
The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is an eating plan which lowers blood pressure effectively and quickly. It is recommended for everyone, whether or not they have high blood pressure. It’s based on a 2,000 a day calorie diet. Most women only need about 1,600 calories, while men use about 2,400 calories.
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
American Heart Associationwww.americanheart.orgNational Stroke Associationwww.stroke.org
WELCOA (Wellness Council of America) 17002 Marcy Street, Suite 140Omaha, NE 68118Phone: (402) 827-3590www.welcoa.org
©2014 Wellness Councils of America 101612
The information contained in this brochure has been carefully reviewed for accuracy. It is not intended to replace the advice of your physician or health care provider.
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