The Wright Center Shares Health Column for National High Blood Pressure Education Month

Below is a guest health column by The Wright Center’s Dr. Nirali Patel for National High Blood Pressure Education Month in May.

By now, many of you are well aware of the dangers of hypertension or, as it’s more commonly known, high blood pressure, which affects roughly half of all Americans and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, we now have drugs that significantly reduce the potential harms of high blood pressure. Still, too many people don’t realize they even have it, so fortunately, there are observances like May’s National High Blood Pressure Education Month, which the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and other organizations use to promote myriad resources relevant to the subject.

For those who don’t know, high blood pressure develops when blood flows through the arteries at an elevated level. Blood pressure consists of two numbers – systolic, the pressure when the ventricles pump blood out of the heart, and diastolic, the pressure between heartbeats when the heart is filling with blood.

Blood pressure changes throughout the day based on activity. For most people, normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), which is the systolic pressure reading over the diastolic pressure reading. That becomes high blood pressure with consistent systolic readings of 130 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 80 mm Hg or higher.

Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t experience symptoms related to high blood pressure until it’s already begun to cause serious health issues – and roughly 1 in 3 American adults aren’t aware they have it, according to the NHLBI.

That’s why it’s extremely important that you get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. In addition to taking medications, you can make several lifestyle modifications to control or lower your blood pressure. Here are a few:

Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight often leads to hypertension and can also disrupt breathing during sleep, which also elevates blood pressure. Losing a few pounds can have a marked effect.

Exercise: Regular physical activity can lower your blood pressure by 5 to 8 mm Hg, so aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily.

Eat better: A diet heavy on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy that’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol can lower high blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg. Examples include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the highly adaptable Mediterranean diet.

Reduce salt intake: Decreasing your sodium consumption can improve heart health and reduce high blood pressure by about 5 to 6 mm Hg. The recommended daily amount is no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg), while 1,500 mg is ideal.

Limit alcohol: Less than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men can help lower blood pressure by about 4 mm Hg. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Quit smoking: Not surprisingly, smoking increases blood pressure. Quitting will not only lower your hypertension but improve your overall health.  

Get a good night’s sleep: Consistently poor sleep can raise your blood pressure. In fact, one of our internal medicine resident physicians at The Wright Center, Dr. Aayushi Sood, recently worked on a study that found that sleeping less than seven hours a night increased the risk of developing high blood pressure by 7% while sleeping less than five hours increased the risk by 11%.

High blood pressure is serious business, but as we’ve clearly demonstrated here, many practical ways exist to contend with it. Be vigilant and be well. 

Nirali Patel, M.D., is board certified in internal medicine and obesity medicine, and is board eligible in geriatrics. Dr. Patel is accepting adult patients at The Wright Center for Community Health Scranton Practice. She also serves as associate program director of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education’s Geriatrics Fellowship Program and as core faculty of the Internal Medicine Residency Program.