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Women's Heart Program Heart Healthy Strategies

Lower Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) has been called "the silent killer" because it can cause a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, or kidney failure, often without any noticeable symptoms. Despite great strides in the research, treatment, and awareness of hypertension over the past 30 years, one in five Americans and about 60 percent of women between 65 and 74 have high blood pressure. In the African-American community, the hypertension rate is among the highest in the world.

The condition has reached epidemic proportions because millions of people don’t even know they have it.

Hypertension is defined as either a consistent systolic blood pressure (when the heart contracts) of 140 mm Hg or higher; a consistent diastolic pressure (when the heart relaxes) of 90 mm Hg or more; or both (140/90 mm Hg or greater). A blood pressure reading below 120/80 mm Hg is considered "optimal," according to the Sixth Report of the Joint National Committee of Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure.

In about 90 percent of people with high blood pressure, there’s no obvious cause for the condition, like kidney disease or a hormonal disorder. However, it can run in families, and it occurs more often in certain ethnic groups.

The best ways to lower your blood pressure are:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Follow a low-fat, low-sodium diet.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink per day.
  • Reduce stress through relaxation exercises, such as yoga.
  • In cases in which high blood pressure can’t be controlled by lifestyle changes alone, antihypertensive medications can help control the condition and keep your heart healthy.

Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring

Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring devices can help women control their blood pressure. These portable instruments allow people to measure their blood pressure regularly at home. The monitors are programmed to take readings every 15 to 30 minutes throughout a 24-hour period. Because they don’t interfere with a woman’s regular activities, ambulatory monitoring devices are easy to use. The devices are accurate, so physicians can easily diagnose high blood pressure and monitor people’s responses to treatments.