More than 100 million people — or half the adults — in the United States have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. It means their heart works harder than necessary to move blood through the body.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, kidney problems, vision loss, sexual dysfunction, and dementia.
Hypertension has been called “the silent killer” because there are no obvious symptoms. The only way to know you have high blood pressure is to get it checked regularly.
Know how to manage risks
Being overweight makes your heart work harder. Eating a high-cholesterol diet does too. If you don’t exercise, and you smoke, drink too much, eat a salty diet, and generally don’t take care of yourself, you’re a prime candidate for high blood pressure.
The good news is you can control those factors.
- Stop using tobacco: Smoking, dipping, chewing and vaping all raise your blood pressure.
- Exercise regularly: Just 30 minutes of brisk walking three days a week helps reduce blood pressure.
- Cut back on salt: Eating fewer processed or fast foods will help reduce your salt intake.
- Lose some weight: Extra pounds make your heart work harder. Cutting out the calorie-dense snacks is the best way to lose weight. AltaMed has registered dieticians who can help you create a healthful eating plan.
- Cut back on caffeine: Try having one less cup of coffee per day to start.
- Reduce stress: Find ways to eliminate some obligations or create some calm time for yourself.
Some factors you can’t control
While staying healthy plays a huge role in controlling or even avoiding high blood pressure, you can’t escape who you are. Your family history plays a role in whether or not you face increased risk for high blood pressure. It also affects African Americans more frequently.
Hypertension affects more Black adults (54%) than any other group. High blood pressure also develops earlier in life and is more severe. There are a number of theories about why this happens including the higher rates of obesity and diabetes among African Americans. There may also be a gene that makes African Americans more sensitive to salt, which boosts blood pressure.
Control of blood pressure among Black adults is also lower (25%) than it is among non-Hispanic white adults (32%). Among Hispanic adults only 25% have their blood pressure under control, but among Asian adults it’s only 19%.
Racial disparities in the access to treatment and care have been cited as factors in the frequency and management of high blood pressure. Some groups have limited access to jobs that provide health insurance, so they don’t have access to regular doctors who could help them identify their conditions, or professionals who could help them monitor or control their hypertension. In Southern California, qualifying residents have AltaMed to provide that support.
Hypertension in women
High blood pressure affects men slightly more often than it affects women. However, women face special circumstances that can lead to high blood pressure. A woman’s chance of developing hypertension goes up being just 20 pounds overweight.
They’re also at greater risk once they have reached menopause. In menopause, the woman has gone at least a year without having a period. Blood pressure goes up along with the “bad cholesterol” and certain fats in the blood. “Good” cholesterol declines or stays the same.
Women with perfectly healthy blood pressure can develop hypertension during pregnancy. It effects one in 25 pregnancies and usually goes away after delivery. But if it’s not controlled, it can be life-threatening for the mother and baby.
Mounting (Blood) Pressure
If you have high blood pressure or think you might, regular checkups can ensure it stays in an acceptable range or take action if it’s not. Some people may need medication to control their blood pressure but making healthy lifestyle changes should always be the first course of action.