News Column

High Blood Pressure Is a 'Silent Killer' You Can Control

March 14, 2013

Jason Ashley Wright

It's called "the silent killer."

One in three of us are at risk of being its victim.

Approximately 76 million people have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, said Dr. Nancy Mathea Grayson, the senior regional director of health equity for the American Heart Association (AHA).

"It's called the silent killer because you don't feel differently," said Nellie Kelly, the AHA's director of communications.

You may not even notice symptoms.

Nonetheless, hypertension is a major producer of heart disease and stroke, said Dr. Michael Spain, medical director of Saint Francis Heart Hospital. And coronary heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the country -- in which Oklahoma is the worst state.

Even if you've been diagnosed with hypertension or your blood pressure is higher than it should be, there are basic yet fundamental steps you can take to lower it.

"The symptoms are so vague oftentimes that people can't identify them," said Dr. Mark Fox, associate dean for community health and research development at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine.

Once blood pressure is controlled, though, people feel better and they're usually more energetic, he said.

First, you need to know what your blood pressure is.

Awareness is key, Grayson said. Once you track your blood pressure, it will create awareness. The more aware you are of your numbers, the more likely you are to be proactive in keeping them down.

For adults, the top number -- systolic blood pressure -- should be lower than 120, while the bottom -- diastolic blood pressure -- should be no more than 80, according to the AHA.

Ideally, your blood pressure should be 115 over 75, Fox said, where the risk of cardiovascular disease is normal.

At 135 over 85, you're at twice the normal risk, he explained. At 155 over 95, it's four times the risk. At 175 over 105, it's eight times more.

Stage 1 hypertension is considered a blood pressure reading of 140-159 over 90-99, Fox said. Stage 2 is 160-plus over 100 and higher.

If you're taking blood pressure at home or at one of those readers in a drug or grocery store, and your numbers are high, make an appointment with your doctor, more than one of our experts suggested.

At your physician's, he or she may prescribe you a medication to lower your blood pressure.

"There's no shame in being on a blood pressure medication," Grayson said. It can start helping within a couple weeks, and, once your blood pressure is in a safe zone, your doctor might even consider taking you off it.

You can also do things at home to lower it.

"For most Americans, weight reduction is an important part," Fox said.

For about every 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) an overweight person loses, it's estimated that the systolic blood pressure drops 10 points. Quitting smoking could shave 5-10 points off, with regular exercise -- even if you're not losing weight -- lowering it 5-10 points, too.

Salt intake is a huge contributor to blood pressure.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends people have no more than 3,000 milligrams of sodium each day, but the AHA recommends only 1,500, Grayson said.

Recently, Kelly led a workshop in which she constructed a relatively basic sandwich folks would pack at home to bring to work (see the video at By the time she finished assembling it, the ingredients tallied 1,300 milligrams of sodium -- and that's not counting potato chips, a side dish or can of pop.

To reduce you sodium in take, Grayson suggested retraining your taste buds, using more herbs to flavor meals than salt. Also, avoid processed foods, and add more fruits and vegetables to your diet.

Limit alcohol consumption, too, Grayson said, as it can boost blood pressure. Women should have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day, and men should limit it to one or two. Beyond that, you're increasing your risk factors for high blood pressure.

Exercise is also key in lowering blood pressure, Spain said, as it helps dilate blood vessels.

As walking has the lowest "drop-out rate" of cardio activity, consider 30 minutes of walking each day, Grayson said.

For more tips on lowering blood pressure, as well as a blood vessel risk calculator, visit The salty six The following six popular foods can add high levels of sodium to your diet, which can increase your risk of developing hypertension.

Breads and rolls. Some foods that you eat several times a day, such as bread, add up to a lot of sodium, even though each serving may not seem high in sodium. Check the labels to find lower-sodium varieties.

Cold cuts and cured meats. One 2-ounce serving (six thin slices) of deli meat can contain as much as half of your daily recommended dietary sodium. Look for lower-sodium varieties of your favorite lunch meats.

Pizza. A slice of pizza with several toppings can contain more than half of your daily recommended dietary sodium. Limit the cheese, and add more veggies to your next slice.

Poultry. Sodium levels in poultry can vary based on preparation methods. You will find a wide range of sodium in poultry products, so it is important to choose wisely.

Soup. Sodium in one cup of canned soup can range from 100 to as much as 940 milligrams -- more than half of your daily recommended intake. Check the labels to find lower-sodium varieties.

Sandwiches. A sandwich or burger from a fast food restaurant can contain more than 100 percent of your daily suggested dietary sodium. Try half a sandwich with a side salad instead.

Source: (c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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