A Simple Guide on How to Understand and Manage High Blood Pressure

By Laura Andromalos

A Simple Guide on How to Understand and Manage High Blood Pressure

You Have High Blood Pressure. Now What?

If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or hypertension, you are certainly not alone. About 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure. High blood pressure doesn’t just go away with time. You will have to manage it for the rest of your life. The good news is that high blood pressure is a well-studied condition so there are many resources to help you take care of yourself.

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is how forcefully blood is flowing through your blood vessels. Your heart pumps blood throughout your whole body. When your blood pressure increases, it means your heart has to work harder than normal. High blood pressure increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

How is Blood Pressure Measured?

Blood pressure is typically measured with a blood pressure cuff around your arm. It tightens around the arm to momentarily stop blood flow. When it releases, the pressure of the blood flowing through your vessels can be measured.

Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, such as 120/80 or 120 over 80. The first number is the systolic pressure. It is the pressure when your heart is pumping and pushing blood through the blood vessels. The second number is the diastolic pressure. It is the pressure when the blood vessels are relaxing between heartbeats. While blood pressure goals will vary among people, these are the standard target for blood pressure.

Healthy

Below 120/80

Could be Healthier

Between 120/80 and 140/90

High

140/90 or Higher

 

How Often Should You Measure Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is measured at every routine visit with your doctor. If your blood pressure is high, you might have more frequent visits for checking your blood pressure. Your doctor may ask you to check your blood pressure at home every day or several times per week. This might seem like a burden but it provides valuable data about your blood pressure trends. Think of it like part of your daily health routine, such as brushing your teeth, checking blood sugar (if you have diabetes), or taking medications. Not sure how to buy a home blood pressure cuff? The Cleveland Clinic has a great article with tips.

How is High Blood Pressure Managed?

Lifestyle changes and medications are the main treatments for high blood pressure. Lifestyle includes your food and beverage choices, level of physical activity, cigarette use, and stress levels. All of these factors can affect your blood pressure. It’s overwhelming to change everything at once. Start with one category. Once you’ve made healthy changes in that area and can sustain them, choose another category.

Lifestyle Tips for Managing High Blood Pressure

Food & Beverage Choices

Eat more fruits and vegetables. If you can eat these in place of processed foods with added sugars and salt, even better!

Choose foods that are lower in salt, or sodium. For many people, most of their sodium comes from processed foods instead of their salt shaker. Aim for less than 2,300 mg sodium daily.

Be moderate with alcohol intake. For men, no more than 2 drinks per day. For women, no more than 1 drink per day. A drink is 5 ounces wine, 12 ounces beer, or 1.5 ounces liquor.

Reducing your calorie intake can promote weight loss. Losing just 5% of your weight can decrease your blood pressure.

Physical Activity

Aim for 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. If you don’t have a 30-minute chunk of time, break it into 3 10-minute sessions. Walking, dancing, biking, and stair-climbing are just a few ideas to increase your activity.

Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about increasing your physical activity.

Cigarette Use

If you smoke, build your quit plan. There are many free resources, such as texting or phone call programs and apps. You can also talk with your doctor about medications.

Stress Levels

Stay connected with family and friends. Ask them for support when you need it.

In times of stress, take deep breaths. Sometimes just a few moments of mental calm can help you to better manage stressful situations.

·Take care of yourself. It may be naps, baths, massages, walks, or listening to music. Your health is worth it.

Make time for sleep. Most adults need 7-8 hours per night.

Stress management is often ignored but it is essential for managing high blood pressure. Find more tips from Harvard and the American Heart Association.

 

In addition to lifestyle changes, you may need medications to manage your blood pressure. There are dozens of medications for high blood pressure and they work in many different ways. It is common to be on two different types, or classes, of medications to get the best results. Here are examples of the common classes of medications and how they work:

  • Diuretics – remove excess water and sodium from your body
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors – relax blood vessels
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) – prevent narrowing of blood vessels
  • Calcium channel blockers – allow relaxation of arteries
  • Beta blockers – cause heart to beat more slowly with less force
  • Renin inhibitors – work on kidneys to prevent narrowing of blood vessels

Next Steps

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be having fewer in-person visits with your doctor. Don’t let that prevent you from taking care of yourself.

Monitoring your blood pressure at home helps you to see the trends of how your lifestyle habits and medication use affect your numbers. While you can’t control your blood pressure numbers, you can control your choices to have a healthy lifestyle and take prescribed medications. All of your hard work to achieve your blood pressure targets will reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. Having a longer and healthier life to do the things you love doing is the ultimate reward for managing your blood pressure.

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Orignially published on September 16, 2020, updated on September 16, 2020

Topic: CVD

Laura Andromalos

About Laura Andromalos

Laura Andromalos, MS, RD, CSOWM, CDE, is a bilingual CDE Coach for Cecelia Health and the Nutrition Program Manager at Northwest Weight & Wellness Center in Everett, WA. She is an internationally recognized expert on metabolic & bariatric surgery nutrition practices. Follow her on Twitter at @LAndromalos.