Are you worried about high blood pressure in yourself, a family member, or a friend? Your concern is well-founded. If left untreated, high blood pressure -- also called hypertension -- can lead to a range of health problems, including heart disease and stroke. Knowing more about high blood pressure can help you prevent this condition from damaging your health, or the health of someone you love. You can start by learning what's true about this condition -- and what's not. Here are five common misconceptions about high blood pressure.
First Misconception Is That High Blood Pressure Isn't a Big Deal
Early on, you may not notice symptoms of high blood pressure, so you may not be too concerned. However, in the long run high blood pressure can kill you. Normally, your heart beats regularly, pumping blood through the vessels all over your body. As the blood is pushed by the heartbeat, the blood in turn pushes against the sides of your blood vessels. Blood vessels are flexible and can widen or constrict as needed to keep blood flowing well. For a variety of reasons, your blood may begin to push too hard against the blood vessels. This is high blood pressure.
High blood pressure can lead to damage of your blood vessels, heart, kidneys, and other organs in your body. Heart disease and stroke, both caused by high blood pressure, are the first and third leading causes of death in the U.S.
The scary thing about high blood pressure is that you may have it without even knowing it. That's why doctors often call high blood pressure the "silent killer." Health care professionals agree: High blood pressure is a big deal.
Second Misconception Is That High Blood Pressure Can't Be Prevented
Perhaps you have other relatives with high blood pressure. Maybe you're a member of a group of people who are at greater risk. For these or other reasons, you may be tempted to think that there's nothing you can do about high blood pressure.
Here is some good news about high blood pressure: Even if you have many risk factors, there are steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure:
- Keep your weight at a healthy level. You can accomplish this by a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise.
- Eat a healthy diet. This includes eating only the amount of food your body needs and choosing foods high in nutrients and low in fat, sugar, and salt.
- Limit how much salt you eat. Most of the sodium you eat is in the form of salt. It may be salt that you add at the table or salt added to processed foods you consume.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink.
- Don't smoke tobacco, and minimize your exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Get regular exercise. Try to get at least 30 minutes of activity each day. Exercise relieves stress and helps you control your weight.
- Don't let stress build up. The chemicals your body makes in response to stress make your heart beat harder and faster and your blood vessels tighten. All this makes blood pressure higher.
Ask your doctor for suggestions about high blood pressure and how to prevent it. Your doctor may refer you to other health care professionals who can help.