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Power Down in May for National High Blood Pressure Education Month

Photo: Doctor taking woman's blood pressureReducing high blood pressure can lower your risk for stroke and heart attack.

Less is better in some things, including in blood pressure. About 1 of 3 US adults—67 million people—have high blood pressure.1 High blood pressure makes your heart work too hard and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

You can have high blood pressure and not know it. That is why it is called the silent killer. It is also why it is so important to have your blood pressure checked. If you know family or friends who haven't had their blood pressure checked recently, make it a point to ask them to do it in May, National High Blood Pressure Education Month.

It is easy to check blood pressure and it is painless. It can be checked by your doctor, and many pharmacies have free screenings.

Caution! Arteries Under Pressure

Photo: Senior man by swimming pool

Blood pressure is the force of blood on the walls of your blood vessels as blood flows through them. This pressure naturally rises and falls during the day, but when it is consistently too high, it is considered high blood pressure. The medical term is hypertension.

Like the pipes in your house, your arteries can fail if they are under too much pressure. The video, "High Blood Pressure Basics," illustrates the concept of high blood pressure.

More than 360,000 American deaths in 2010 included high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause.2 That's 1,000 deaths each day.

Blood pressure has two numbers, systolic and diastolic, and is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Systolic pressure (the top number) is the force on the blood vessel walls when the heart beats and pumps blood out of the heart. Diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is the force that occurs when the heart relaxes in between beats.

If your blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic, then your blood pressure is normal; between 120 and 139 systolic and 80–89 diastolic, you have prehypertension. Systolic of 140 or greater, or diastolic that is 90 or greater, is hypertension.

What Is Your Risk?

Men and women are about equally likely to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes, but their risks vary at different ages. The condition affects more men than women before 64 years of age. For people aged 65 years or older, more women than men have high blood pressure.

Age

Men (%)

Women (%)

20–349.16.7
35–4424.417.6
45–5437.737.7
55–6452.052.0
65–7463.970.8
75+72.180.1

Data in this table are from the 2014 AHA Statistical Update, using 2007-2010 NHANES

African Americans develop high blood pressure more often, and at an earlier age, than whites and Hispanics do. More black women than men have high blood pressure.3

Racial or Ethnic Group

Men (%)

Women (%)

Blacks40.544.3
Mexican Americans28.627.8
Whites31.128.1
All31.329.6

Data in this table are from Health US 2012, using 2007-2010 NHANES

African American men are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease (CVD). One of the reasons for this has to do with the rates of uncontrolled high blood pressure among African American men. Uncontrolled high blood pressure among African American men aged 20 years and older is 59.7%; compared to 47.0% of white men. Uncontrolled hypertension among African American women is 47.3% compared to 43.2% for white women.2

Eliminating health disparities among various segments of the population is a CDC priority and a Healthy People 2010 goal.

Keep It Down in There!

If you have high blood pressure, there are steps you can take to get it under control, including—

  • Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be. Set a goal to lower your pressure with your doctor and then discuss how you can reach your goal. Work with your health care team to make sure you meet that goal.
  • Take your blood pressure medication as directed. If you are having trouble, ask your doctor what you can do to make it easier. For example, you may want to discuss your medication schedule with your doctor if you are taking multiple drugs at different times of the day. Or you may want to discuss side effects you are feeling, or the cost of your medicine.
  • Quit smoking—and if you don't smoke, don't start. You can find tips and resources at CDC's Smoking and Tobacco Web site or Be Tobacco Free Web site.
  • Reduce sodium. Most Americans consume too much sodium, and it raises blood pressure in most people. Learn about tips to reduce your sodium.

Photo: Two women riding bicyclesThere are other healthy habits, that can help keep your blood pressure under control—

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Manage stress.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink (no more than one drink each day for women and two for men).
  • If you have high blood pressure and are prescribed medication, take it as directed.
  • If you have a family member who has high blood pressure, you can help by taking many of the steps listed above with them. Go for walks together or cook meals with lower sodium. Make it a family affair!
  • Check your blood pressure regularly.

Resources

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) can help control high blood pressure through a healthy diet.

"I can do it!" is the message of the My Blood Pressure Wallet Card that helps patients monitor their blood pressure readings, remember to take their medications, and keep up the lifestyle changes that will help lower their blood pressure.

Million Hearts® is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes in the United States by 2017. Launched by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), it aligns existing efforts and creates new programs to help Americans live longer, more productive lives. The CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, co-leaders of Million Hearts™ within HHS, are working alongside other federal agencies and private-sector organizations to make a long-lasting impact against cardiovascular disease.

References

  1. CDC. Vital signs: awareness and treatment of uncontrolled hypertension among adults—United States, 2003–2010. MMWR. 2012;61:703-9.
  2. Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics-2014 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2014;129:e28-e292.
  3. CDC. Health, United States, 2012: With Special Feature on Emergency Care. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2013.
  4. CDC. A Closer Look at African American Men and High Blood Pressure Control: A Review of Psychosocial Factors and Systems-Level Interventions. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.
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