Did you know high blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Control Hypertension,” nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, yet only 1 in 4 has their hypertension under control.
High blood pressure is called a silent killer, as it frequently shows no signs or symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure puts people at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the U.S.
Who is at risk? The likelihood of suffering from high blood pressure increases with age, but all adults are at risk. African Americans are more likely than White Americans to have high blood pressure, develop it when younger, and have worse outcomes.
The good news? It is possible to control high blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and other conditions.
“High blood pressure is dangerous, and unfortunately all too common,” said Janet Wright, M.D., acting director, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at CDC. “Regularly checking your blood pressure and working with your healthcare team are vital first steps to help keep your high blood pressure under control.”
In honor of American Heart Month, here are tips for achieving lower blood pressure and supporting your heart health.
1. Get your checkups
If you’ve put off regular wellness exams, take time to catch up. Talk to your healthcare provider about hypertension, especially if you’ve had high blood pressure readings, high blood pressure associated with a pregnancy or family history of hypertension.
For checkups, use telemedicine if available, or communicate with your provider by phone or email.
If you must visit in-person, protect yourself and others.
- Before making an appointment, call your healthcare provider or check their website to see what measures they are taking to keep people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when you must go out in public.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Stay at least six feet away from others.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you get home.
2. Know your numbers
At your next checkup, ask your healthcare provider what your blood pressure numbers are, what they mean, and if you are at risk. If your blood pressure is high or borderline high, ask what actions can help lower your blood pressure.
You can also ask your provider about using a home blood pressure monitor. Learn how to obtain one and use it. Ask your provider about electronic health record portals or other ways to track your numbers and how you can receive clinical advice to manage your hypertension.
3. Take medications as prescribed
Medications are often an important part of blood pressure control plans. Follow your provider’s instructions carefully. If you experience problems getting or taking your medicines, talk with your healthcare team.
4. Make positive lifestyle changes
While medications may be prescribed to help control your high blood pressure, these lifestyle changes may also help:
- Boost your physical activity — Start small, like adding a daily walk
- Eat a heart-healthy diet — Include more vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Watch your salt intake — Read food labels and choose foods with less sodium (salt)
5. Reduce your stress
Taking care of yourself is always important, especially during challenging times. Stress can contribute to health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. How can you reduce your stress levels for better health?
- Be aware of stress. Do you have headaches, muscle tension or other symptoms? Observing what causes you stress and how your body responds is the first step.
- Move more. Physical activity can help reduce stress, whether intense exercise or a walk around the block.
- Try relaxation tools. Whether deep breathing, meditation or yoga — relaxation tools can help you let go of stress. Find what works for you!
- Talk to someone. Call a friend or mental health professional. Talking out a problem can help to reduce your tension.
6. Quit smoking
If you smoke, now is the perfect time to quit. According to the CDC, smoking increases your risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
Ask your healthcare provider for support for quitting smoking.
Visit CDC.gov/heartmonth for health tips, blood pressure logs and more.