This post is written in partnership with the American Heart Association. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
18. That was the age that I was first diagnosed with high blood pressure. It was a few months after I graduated from high school. I was so shocked that I could even be diagnosed with it at such a young age. Looking back it was probably something that I could have prevented had I known a lot more about the condition. Did you know that high blood pressure is the second most common cause of preventable death in the US?
May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month and I’m going to share my story with you about what it’s really like living with high blood pressure. Of course I’m no expert but I’ve been living with it for 10 years and hope that I can shed some knowledge to help educate you.
The Reality of Living With High Blood Pressure
When I was first diagnosed with high blood pressure, I didn’t take it seriously at all. It’s a condition that runs in my family and that most seem to function very well with. Before being prescribed medication I wasn’t dedicated to getting it under control with diet and exercise. I was young and I allowed myself to think that it was something that would just go away. I was wrong. Small changes can make a positive impact in managing your blood pressure and could mean the difference between low vs high risk for heart disease or stroke.
It wasn’t until years later after having two children and being diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease that I started to take my condition seriously. In 10 years of living with high blood pressure none of my doctors had really stressed the severity of the disease. I knew that it is known as the “silent killer” especially among the African American community but I never truly understood what that meant.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently too high. According to the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology’s 2017 guidelines high blood pressure is classified as a systolic reading of 130 or higher, or a diastolic reading of 80 mm Hg or higher.
Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because often there may be no symptoms, despite its role in significantly increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other life-threatening conditions.
9 Tips for Living With High Blood Pressure
1. Educate yourself
Being diagnosed with high blood pressure can be extremely overwhelming. Don’t let it be. Take time to understand your diagnosis and learn what you can do to manage your condition. Learn more about high blood pressure by using AHA’s interactive blood pressure chart at www.heart.org/bplevels.
2. Learn how to take your blood pressure correctly
Studies show that those who check their blood pressure more often are more likely to keep their blood pressure at a healthy level. If you have high blood pressure, work with your health care professional to learn how to accurately monitor and manage your blood pressure.
3. Stay active
Staying active is one of the best ways to help control your blood pressure. Simple activities like yoga, walking or bike riding are great ways to get your heart pumping and get you sweating.
4. Eat healthy
Eating healthy goes hand in hand with staying active. This was one of the areas where I fell short for years. I didn’t take my diet into consideration. Eating a well-balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables and grains is essential. Try to avoid adding table salt to your foods as salt is one of the major triggers for raising your blood pressure. When cooking, stick to salt-free seasonings instead and natural herbs that can add flavor to your dishes instead. A well-balanced diet with limited alcohol intake can make a major difference when living with high blood pressure.
5. Keep a log of your blood pressures
Monitoring your blood pressure at home is an important part of managing your condition. Take your blood pressure at least once a day and keep a log for your next doctor’s visit. The log will help your doctor to determine if the changes you’ve made at home are working. It will also help the doctor to decide if the medication prescribed is the right dosage.
6. Avoid “health saboteurs”
Did you know that things like decongestants, NSAIDs, that second glass of wine are instant blood pressure raisers? Try avoiding them as much as you can to keep your blood pressure under control.
7. Take your medication correctly
If you’re prescribed a medication, be sure to take it as directed even if it means taking it every day. Following the instructions are important if you want the medication to work correctly.
8. Manage your stress levels
Managing your stress levels can be difficult especially if you’re a parent like me but it’s important to take the time out daily for a little self care. Stress can elevate your blood pressure and you wouldn’t even know it. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, and working out are great ways to get your stress under control.
9. Follow up with your doctor
When you’re living with high blood pressure, following up with your doctor should always be a top priority. Be sure to keep your appointments and make note of any questions you may have for the doctor. Having the right doctor and working with them is essential to making sure your heart is functioning properly and your condition is under control.
4 HPB Myths
1. Blood pressure isn’t a big deal
Wrong! Blood pressure is a huge deal and can lead to strokes. It can also affect other health conditions like Polycystic Kidney Disease in my case.
2. High blood pressure can’t be prevented
With proper diet, exercise, collaboration with your doctor, and medication if necessary, high blood pressure can often be prevented or managed well.
3. Medication isn’t necessary
If a doctor prescribes you medication for your condition it’s because you need it.
4. I don’t have high blood pressure because I feel fine
Feeling fine has nothing to do with you having high blood pressure. Most people with HBP don’t have any symptoms at all.
Things to avoid
When you have high blood pressure there are a lot of triggers that can elevate your BP. Here’s a list of things that I try to avoid:
- Deli meat
- Canned foods
- Pre-packaged foods
- Processed foods
- Fried foods
- Red meat
- Snack foods like popcorn, chips, pretzels
You can take control. Be proactive about your health now before it’s too late.