According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Americans lives with hypertension. The condition is very common, but also preventable. Most people can tackle high blood pressure in three steps: getting educated on the risk factors, taking control of the ones you have, and monitoring your body regularly.
Assess Your Risk for Hypertension
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), blood pressure is defined as "the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries." High blood pressure can be caused by many factors -- anything from stiffening of the arteries to eating too much salt -- and the consequences are dangerous, leading to serious health problems such as stroke, heart disease, and kidney problems.
Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure significantly. Start by evaluating your personal risk factors. Common risk factors for the condition, according to the NIH, include
- Age: High blood pressure is more common in people over age 60, though it can occur in much younger people, as well.
- Sex: Both men and women can become hypertensive, but high blood pressure risk tends to be higher for men under age 55 and for women over age 55.
- Race/ethnicity: While anyone can develop high blood pressure, it's more common in African Americans than in Caucasians or Hispanics.
- Family history: If your close relatives have hypertension, you are more likely to develop it yourself.
- Weight and lifestyle habits: People who are overweight, live a sedentary lifestyle, or eat too much salty and fatty foods are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
- Pregnancy: Pregnant women can develop a special type of high blood pressure called preeclampsia. This condition usually goes away after the baby is born.
Take Control of Your Risk Factors
Of course, you can't control your age or your sex, but you certainly can control which foods you choose to eat and how much exercise you get. Do your best to avoid becoming hypertensive by addressing some of these lifestyle-related risk factors:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat healthy, unprocessed foods.
- Avoid eating too much salt.
- Don't drink alcohol excessively.
- Exercise several times a week, even if it's just walking.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure Regularly
Unlike many other medical conditions that cause distinctive signs of illness, high blood pressure is considered a "silent killer" because you can have it for a long time without ever exhibiting any outward signs. Occasionally, chronic headaches can signal hypertension, but many people with high blood pressure look and feel fine.
Because of the lack of symptoms, it's very important to measure your blood pressure regularly, either at the doctor's office or at home using a blood-pressure cuff. Taking your blood pressure is noninvasive, painless, and is an easy way to catch hypertension in the early stages -- before you experience any serious health consequences.
Investing just a small amount of research, time, and effort in avoiding hypertension can pay big health dividends. When you keep your blood pressure in the normal range, you reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. If you notice your blood pressure creeping up over time, see your doctor for treatment.