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#MeasureYourPressure: Take Action against Hypertension

Katherine Polak and Dr. Jennifer Sedillo, American Military University

In the United States, the leading cause of death for both men and women is heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one out of every four deaths in the United States is related to heart disease. Many people are aware that a poor diet and a lack of exercise contribute to the development of heart disease, but an important and often unfamiliar contributing factor to heart disease is high blood pressure (hypertension).

Who Is at Risk for Hypertension?

High blood pressure can affect people of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Your chances of developing high blood pressure increase as you age, but younger people may be more at risk depending on their ethnicity and lifestyle. African-Americans, American Indians, Native Alaskans, Asians and Native Hawaiians have been found to have higher prevalence rates of high blood pressure when compared to people with white or Hispanic ethnicity.

Also, lifestyles that are comprised of stress and poor health choices contribute to the risk of developing high blood pressure. For example, smoking, drinking alcohol and eating unhealthy foods to handle stress can increase your risk for hypertension.

Sedentary lifestyles can also contribute to high blood pressure. A sedentary lifestyle occurs when a person does not get an adequate amount of physical activity and most of their daily routines involve sitting.

Work conditions that involve a lot of typing on computers or sitting in meetings, for instance, create daily routines that lack the daily minimum amount of physical exercise. As a result, you are more likely to gain weight and increase your chances of having high blood pressure.

African-Americans at Greater Risk for Hypertension and Heart Disease

The African-American community is disproportionately affected by hypertension and heart disease. High blood pressure often starts at an earlier age in African-Americans and the American Heart Association estimates that 40% of African-Americans have high blood pressure. People who have hereditary risk factors should get their blood pressure checked periodically to screen for high blood pressure development.

Certain Occupations Increase Risk for Hypertension

Some occupations—such as emergency responders, firefighters, police officers and military service members—have long stretches of inactivity followed by high stress and intense physical exertion. They may also have intermittent exposure to loud noises, heat stress and fluid loss, which also lead to hypertension.

Firefighters, in particular, have the highest rate of coronary heart disease (CHD). A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that "duty-related cardiac death in U.S. firefighters" is associated with underlying heart conditions, including coronary heart disease and increased heart mass.

High blood pressure can cause coronary heart disease, including left ventricular hypertrophy and atherosclerosis, which leads to poorer health outcomes when a heart attack does occur. The underlying heart health of firefighters needs to be monitored, including maintaining optimal blood pressure.

High Blood Pressure Is 'The Silent Killer'

High blood pressure is known as a "silent killer" because it often has no symptoms and if it is left uncontrolled, hypertension becomes fatal. The longer it is left uncontrolled, the more damage that occurs inside your body.

High blood pressure has also been associated with numerous diseases that are related to the heart and vascular system. Some of these diseases include heart disease and stroke.

Early Diagnosis of High Blood Pressure Is Vital to Your Health

Getting diagnosed with high blood pressure is an important step in starting the therapeutic process to get your pressure under control and maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle. Chronic high blood pressure is of concern, because damage done to the heart can be irreversible.

A normal blood pressure reading is 120 or less over 79 or less. Any blood pressure numbers that are higher indicate that preventative measures should be adopted to help protect the heart and vascular system.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself from High Blood Pressure?

There are various steps you can take to reduce your risk of hypertension. Consider the following tips:

  • Unhealthy diets contribute to the development of high blood pressure and heart disease. Diets that are high in sodium increase the risks of developing high blood pressure. Adopting a diet that is low in sodium and high in potassium can help reduce blood pressure.

    DASH Eating Plans have been successful in helping many people lower and maintain their blood pressure. These eating plans involve increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet and limiting fats, sugars, and sodium.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight and getting enough exercise also decreases your risk of developing hypertension. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get two and a half to five hours a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

    Moderate physical activity can be defined as walking one and a half to three miles a day at three to four miles per hour. Consider taking a walk during your lunch breaks at work or around the neighborhood after dinner to increase your physical activity.

  • Quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake decreases the possibility of hypertension as well. Health experts recommend not smoking at all and drinking alcohol in moderation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Drinking in moderation means no more than two standard alcoholic drinks a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women.

High blood pressure negatively affects your health and heightens your risks for developing stroke and heart disease. Measuring your blood pressure and taking preventative action against high blood pressure ensures that you stay heart-healthy.

For more information about high blood pressure and the importance of measuring your blood pressure, follow our #MeasureYourPressure Facebook campaign on the AMU & APU Public Health Page.

About the Authors

Katherine Polak has worked in healthcare for over nine years. She has an A.S. in cardiovascular sonography from Nebraska Methodist College and a B.S. in Public Health from the American Public University. Katherine is currently pursuing her Master of Public Health degree at APU. She is a research intern on the APUS research project to establish an online public health community service model. Katherine aspires to continue working in health care and has interests in infection control and clinical research.

Dr. Jennifer Sedillo is an associate professor in the public health program at AMU. Her training is in cellular and molecular microbiology. She has been a co-author on many peer-reviewed articles. Her dissertation research was in the molecular biology of malaria, and her current research interests are in public health community outreach and food safety.

Provided by American Public University System