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Wellness Talk: Watch out for high blood pressure

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, means there is too much tension or pressure in the vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Left untreated, chronic hypertension forces the heart to work way beyond its capacity and, over time, high blood pressure can damage your arteries, kidneys, eyes and brain. Not to mention that it can lead to life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

And here's the biggest concern of all: High blood pressure is largely a symptomless condition - that's why it's called "the silent killer." This is where most people with high blood pressure make a huge mistake because they think, "Well, it doesn't hurt, so it can't be that bad."

Big mistake.

High blood pressure is indeed a significant concern, but there is good news in that there are tests to detect it and great options to lower it. In fact, the faster you identify high blood pressure, the sooner you can get to work normalizing it.

What you need to know

Your blood pressure reading is given in two numbers - for example, 120 over 80 mmHg.

The top number is called the systolic blood pressure, and it indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and fills them with blood.

The bottom number is called the diastolic blood pressure, and it indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats (your resting heart rate).

Normal Blood Pressure: lower than 120/80 mmHg.

Pre-Hypertension: higher than 120/80, but below 140/90.

Hypertension: higher than 140/90 mmHg.

Know your numbers, save your life

You should have your blood pressure checked by a health care professional at least once a year or as often as your doctor advises. But just because your blood pressure is high in a single, isolated reading doesn't necessarily mean you have hypertension. In fact, an elevated blood pressure due to the stress and anxiety of a doctor's visit is commonly referred to as "white coat" hypertension. Again, one elevated reading at the doctor's office doesn't necessarily mean you have pre-hypertension or hypertension. That's why your doctor will take several readings to determine if it's just a case of the jitters or if you truly have high blood pressure.

Take charge of your blood pressure

Don't wait for a tragedy or a milestone birthday to take charge of your health. Here are some excellent tips to help you manage and prevent high blood pressure:

• Get your blood pressure checked regularly. Wadena offers a number of excellent opportunities to get screened, including the Men's and Women's Health Night Out community events.

• Know your family history. Because high blood pressure runs in families, by knowing your family history you'll know if you are at increased risk. If you do have a family history, it is all the more important that you get screened regularly.

• Walk every single day. Thirty minutes of walking can work wonders on high blood pressure, but you have to do it regularly. Remember, exercise is medicine!

• Eat smaller, healthier portions. By keeping your weight in check, you can significantly lower your risk for high blood pressure.

• Use alcohol in moderation. No more than one drink a day can substantially reduce your risk for high blood pressure.

• Take your medication. If you do have high blood pressure, the good news is it can be managed, but you have to take your medication...every day!

Encouragement is sometimes necessary

The worst offenders in avoiding annual preventive screenings are white males over the age of 40. As a result, family members - especially spouses - need to provide a little encouragement to these knuckleheads to pay attention to their health status by seeing their doctor every year. Rather than nagging, the best way to do this is to write a note telling them how much you love and care about them and that you want to keep them around for a few more years. Tape the note to the refrigerator, put it in his lunchbox or stick it on the dashboard of his car. If that doesn't work, have the kids do it. It's a sure-fire way to get his attention.