Thursday, March 8, 2007

5 things you didn't know about high blood pressure

Some facts about high blood pressure:

1. It's extremely common

Nearly one in three adults in this country has high blood pressure, but because there are no symptoms, nearly one-third of them don't know they have it. The only way to tell whether you have it is to have your blood pressure checked.

2. Why you should worry

A 2005 study found that 50-year-olds with normal blood pressure live longer -- about five years more -- compared with those with high blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure or kidney failure.

3. Reading the numbers

Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers -- the systolic pressure (top number) over the diastolic pressure (bottom number). The top is the pressure of blood in the vessels when the heart contracts. The bottom is the pressure of the blood between heartbeats, when the heart is at rest and is refilling.

4. Is yours high?

Under the latest guidelines from the American Heart Association, a resting blood pressure reading below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) is "normal." If your resting blood pressure is consistently 140/90 or higher, you have high blood pressure. A reading between those levels places you in the prehypertensive category.

5. How to combat it

There is no cure, but you may be able to lower your blood pressure by eating more fruits and vegetables and less fat and salt. Exercising at least 20 minutes a day on most days of the week also helps. Lose weight if you're overweight, stop smoking and drink only one to two alcoholic drinks a day. (Some studies say that drinking more than three to four ounces of 80-proof alcohol per day will raise blood pressure.)