High blood pressure has no symptoms, which is why it’s often referred to as the “silent killer”. Checking your blood pressure regularly is therefore essential.
During this month of May, be part of the May Measurement Month and visit your nearest screening centre (clinic, pharmacy or GP) as the world observes World Hypertension Day on 17 May. Here’s why…
“High blood pressure, medically known as hypertension, is the major risk factor for heart disease, strokes, kidney disease and even eye disease. When blood pressure exceeds a certain threshold, we call it high blood pressure.” – South African Hypertension Society
As part of a medical examination, most times your blood pressure (BP) will be checked. Yet, as soon as you leave the doctor’s rooms you’ll probably only be able to say whether your BP was “good” or “bad”. You might also not be very clear on what you need to do to prevent or keep it under control. Sound familiar? Knowing your numbers is very important, as is being able to deal with the results you get. High Blood Pressure has no symptoms, which is how it got the name the “silent killer”.
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers: systolic (upper number) and diastolic (lower number). Diastolic blood pressure is when the pressure is at its lowest, while the heart is resting between beats. Hypertension is traditionally defined as systolic and/or diastolic BP more than or equal to 140/90 mm Hg. In most cases, the higher the blood pressure, the stronger the likelihood of serious consequences for the heart, brain or kidneys. There may be some exceptions, depending on your state of health.
Here’s a useful table to refer to, from Harvard Health:
In most cases, people develop hypertension because it runs in their family or due to lifestyle habits, such as poor diet, high salt intake, physical inactivity, obesity, alcohol abuse or stress. The Mayo Clinic, an integrated clinical practice, suggests the following lifestyle changes to control hypertension:
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your BP by up to 11 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure. This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
It isn’t easy to change your eating habits, but here are some tips:
- Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.
- Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that’s best for you.
- Be a smart shopper. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy eating plan when you’re dining out, too.
Reduce sodium in your diet
Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can improve your heart health and reduce blood pressure by about 5 to 6 mm Hg.
The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to 2,300mg a day or less. However, a lower sodium intake — 1,500 mg a day or less — is ideal for most adults.
To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
- Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.
- Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
- Don’t add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300mg of sodium. Use fresh herbs to add flavor to your food. (Don’t forget we deliver organic herbs and vegetables – weekly – in and around Johannesburg – order here!)
- Ease into it. If you don’t feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.
Get tested, know your numbers and prevent yourself from being a statistic!
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