Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and heart failure.

What Blood Pressure Is Considered Too High?

A blood pressure of 130/80 or higher is considered high. This is called hypertension

A blood pressure between 120 and 129 and less than 80 is considered elevated. This means that you do not have hypertension, but you are likely to develop it in the future unless you adopt lifestyle changes to keep your blood pressure under control.

 

How Can I Prevent High Blood Pressure?

You can prevent high blood pressure by:

These changes are also recommended for treating high blood pressure, although medicine is often added as part of the treatment.

How Is Blood Pressure Related to Weight?

As your body weight increases, your blood pressure can rise. In fact, being overweight can make you more likely to develop high blood pressure than if you are at your desirable weight. About 70% of adults in the United States are overweight. You can reduce your risk of high blood pressure by losing weight. Even small amounts of weight loss can make a big difference in helping to prevent and treat high blood pressure.

How Can I Lose Weight?

To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. But don't go on a crash diet to see how quickly you can lose those pounds. The healthiest and longest-lasting weight loss happens when you do it slowly, losing 1/2 to 1 pound a week. By cutting back by 500 calories/day, by eating less and being more physically active, you can lose about one pound in a week.

Here are some tips to help you lose weight and get on the road to healthy eating:

  • Choose foods high in fiber. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, dry peas, and beans, as well as whole-grain (as opposed to highly processed) cereals, pasta, rice, and breads. They are low-calorie and are good sources of vitamins and minerals.
  • Choose whole-wheat vs. processed starches. Not all starches are equal. In general, you should choose whole-grain instead of processed starches. One guideline is to avoid starchy foods that are predominantly white in color - for example, white bread, potatoes, pasta, or rice. Whole-grain foods have higher nutritional value and generally leave you feeling fuller, which will also help prevent you from overeating.
  • Limit serving size. To lose weight, it's not just the type of foods you eat that's important, but also the amount. To take in fewer calories, you need to limit your portion sizes. Try especially to take smaller helpings of high-calorie foods like higher-fat meats and cheeses. And try not to go back for seconds.
  • Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, when you eat and why. Note whether you snack on high-fat foods in front of the television, or if you skip breakfast and then eat a large lunch. Once you see your habits, you can set goals for yourself.
  • Exercise . Another important ingredient to losing weight is increasing physical activity. Cutting down on calories and getting regular physical activity can help you lose more weight and keep it off longer than only eating less or only exercising. Exercise can also lower blood pressure. People who are physically active have a lower risk of getting high blood pressure than people who are not active. You don't have to be a marathon runner to benefit from physical activity. Even light activities, if done daily, can help lower your risk of heart disease. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park farther away from the entrance so that you have to walk farther.

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How Can I Reduce My Intake of Salt?

Americans eat more salt and other forms of sodium than they need. Often, when people with high blood pressure cut back on salt, their blood pressure falls. Cutting back on salt also prevents blood pressure from rising. Some people, like African-Americans and the elderly, may be more affected by sodium than others. Since there's really no practical way to predict exactly who will be affected by sodium, it makes sense for everyone to limit intake of salt to help prevent high blood pressure.

All Americans, especially people with high blood pressure, should eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily. That's about 1 teaspoon of table salt. But remember to keep track of ALL salt eaten -- including that in processed foods and salt added during cooking or at the table.

You can teach your taste buds to enjoy less salty foods. Here are a few tips:

  • Check food labels for the amount of salt in foods. Choose those lower in sodium most of the time. Look for products that say "sodium free," "very low sodium," "low sodium," "light in sodium," "reduced or less sodium" or "unsalted," especially on cans, boxes, bottles, and bags.
  • Buy foods that are fresh, plain frozen, or canned with "no salt added." Use fresh poultry, fish and lean meat, rather than canned or processed types.
  • Use herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking instead of salt.
  • Cook rice, pasta and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, because they usually have added salt.
  • Rinse canned foods like tuna to remove some sodium.

A research study called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) showed that you can reduce your blood pressure by eating foods rich in grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.

How Much Alcohol Can I Drink if I Have High Blood Pressure?

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It may also lead to the development of high blood pressure. So to help prevent high blood pressure, if you drink alcohol, limit how much you drink to no more than two drinks a day if you are male. The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" recommend that for overall health, women and lighter weight persons should limit their alcohol to no more than one drink a day.

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This is what counts as a drink:

  • 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof or 1 ounce of 100-proof whiskey
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer (regular or light)

You may have heard that some alcohol is good for your heart. Some studies suggest that people who consume a drink or two a day have lower blood pressure and live longer than those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol or no alcohol at all. Others note that wine raises the "good" (HDL) blood cholesterol that prevents the build-up of fats in the arteries.

While these studies may be correct, they don't tell the whole story. Too much alcohol contributes to a host of other health problems, such as motor vehicle accidents, diseases of the liver and pancreas, damage to the brain and heart, an increased risk of many cancers, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol is also high in calories. So you should limit how much you drink.

Should I Take Dietary Supplements?

Other things, like dietary supplements, may also help treat high blood pressure. Here's a roundup of what's being said about them.

  • Fiber. Eating the recommended amount of fiber has been shown to lower the risk of stroke and heart disease. Some studies also show that fiber intake can help lower blood pressure levels in people diagnosed with high blood pressure. Fiber can also help lower cholesterol levels, especially LDL (bad) cholesterol. It's best to get the fiber you need from food sources. However, most people only get about half of the fiber they need each day. Fiber supplements can help you get the fiber you need. Examples include psyllium and methylcellulose. If you take a fiber supplement, increase the amount you take slowly. This can help prevent gas and cramping. It’s also important to drink enough liquids when you increase your fiber intake.
  • Potassium. Eating foods rich in potassium will help control blood pressure. You probably can get enough potassium from your diet, so a supplement isn't necessary. Many fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and fish are good sources of potassium.
  • Calcium. Populations with low calcium intakes have high rates of high blood pressure. However, it has not been proven that taking calcium tablets will prevent high blood pressure. But it is important to be sure to get at least the recommended amount of calcium -- 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams per day for adults (pregnant and breastfeeding women need more) -- from the foods you eat. Dairy foods like low-fat selections of milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium. Low-fat and nonfat dairy products have even more calcium than the high-fat types.
  • Magnesium. A diet low in magnesium may make your blood pressure rise. But doctors don't recommend taking extra magnesium to help prevent high blood pressure -- the amount you get in a healthy diet is enough. Magnesium is found in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and dry peas and beans.
  • Fish oils. A type of fat called "omega-3 fatty acids" is found in fatty fish like mackerel and salmon. Large amounts of fish oils may help reduce high blood pressure, but their role in prevention is unclear. Taking fish oil pills may be difficult because high doses can cause unpleasant side effects, such as fishy smelling breath. The pills are also high in fat and calories. Fish, if not fried or made with added fat, is low in saturated fat and calories and can be eaten often, so it is generally a better way to receive omega-3 fatty acids.

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Can Caffeine Affect my Blood Pressure?

The caffeine in drinks like coffee, tea, and sodas may cause blood pressure to go up, but only temporarily. In a short time your blood pressure will go back down. Unless you are sensitive to caffeine and your blood pressure does not go down, you do not have to limit caffeine to avoid developing high blood pressure.

Can Stress Affect Blood Pressure?

Yes. Stress can make blood pressure go up for a while and over time may contribute to the cause of high blood pressure. There are many steps you can take to reduce your stress. The article on easing stress will get you started.

What About High Blood Pressure Drugs?

If you have high blood pressure, the lifestyle changes mentioned above may not be enough to lower your pressure. Your doctor may recommend adding medication.

Many people with hypertension need more than one drug to lower their blood pressure. The types of high blood pressure drugs include:

Many of these medicines are also available as combination pills that utilize 2 different drugs in one pill.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 2, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Conditions: High Blood Pressure."

American Medical Association. 

CDC.

FamilyDoctor.org: "High Blood Pressure Overview" and “Whole Grains and Fiber.”

Journal of Hypertension, "Effect of dietary fiber intake on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials," March 2005, Vol. 23, Issue 3, pg. 475 - 481.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: "What Is High Blood Pressure?"

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: "Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure."

Uptodate.com: “Patient information: High-fiber diet (Beyond the Basics),” Arnold Wald, MD.

 

 

 

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