Senior Services of Snohomish County
Hypertension, or persistently high blood pressure, is a common medical condition in which blood circulates through the body’s vessels at higher than normal pressures. Over time this abnormal force can cause damage to the vessels and organs, increasing the risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and eye problems.
Unfortunately, high blood pressure often goes ignored, largely due to its “silent” nature. Early signs of hypertension (HTN) typically cannot be seen or felt. However, it is a prevalent health problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypertension currently affects 1 in 3 adults in the United States. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to developing high blood pressure, because the risk of HTN increases as we age.
How is blood pressure measured?
Due to the silent nature of hypertension, routine monitoring of blood pressure through regular medical checkups is one of the most important things we can do for our health. Blood pressure is measured as two different numbers. The first (top) number refers to systolic pressure, which is the amount of pressure exerted when the heart contracts. The second (bottom) number refers to diastolic pressure, which measures the pressure of blood between heart contractions.
A normal or safe range for a blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg or less. Alternately, hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressures are consistently elevated above 139/90 mmHg. If you are unable to regulate your blood pressure, your doctor may discuss treatment options with you — including the use of antihypertensive medications. You may also seek the consult of a registered dietitian nutritionist who can provide individualized dietary advice to help lower your blood pressure.
Although, less common, hypotension is also a concern, especially as we age. When the blood pressure gets too low it can cause dizziness and fainting, causing falls that may lead to other problems if not corrected.
How to prevent or manage blood pressure?
Anyone can develop high blood pressure. However, some individuals are at higher risk than others due to unmodifiable risk factors such as age, gender, race and genetics. Fortunately, by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, many people find they can manage their blood pressure and lower the risk of associated complications. Healthy lifestyle habits that can reduce the risk of HTN include regular physical activity, smoking and alcohol cessation, reducing sodium intake, eating a well-balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight.
A nutritious diet that is low in sodium can help regulate blood pressure. Sodium can promote fluid retention, which increases strain in the blood vessels causing blood pressure to rise. The effect of sodium on an individual varies from person to person; some have a higher tolerance for sodium while others are sodium sensitive. The standard recommendation of sodium intake is 2,300 mg per day. This amount is equivalent to one teaspoon of table salt. The recommendation for someone with hypertension is 1500 mg per day. When hypertension is more difficult to manage a physician may recommend antihypertensive medications.
Individuals with high blood pressure may be advised to follow The DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and emphasizes a healthy eating plan designed to lower high blood pressure. The DASH diet limits foods that are high in fat, sugar, and sodium. The general guidelines promote a well-rounded diet of poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
One of the main focuses of avoiding foods with a high sodium content is to consume fresh foods that are high in potassium, calcium and magnesium, which have been associated with lower blood pressure.
Canned foods and frozen meals are discouraged as they are very high in sodium. If you choose to purchase these items it is important to check the labels and choose options that are labeled as a low sodium or no added salt when possible. You may also drain and rinse canned vegetables to reduce sodium intake.
Be cautious with condiments, as they are also often high in sodium. Common condiments high in sodium include ketchup, barbecue sauce, marinara and other pasta sauces, soy sauce, etc. Common herbs and spices that can add flavor to foods without adding sodium include basil, cinnamon, turmeric, thyme, oregano, ginger, chili powder, and nutmeg.