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Know Your Blood Pressure Numbers

By Kimberly Wilschek, RN, CCE

Know Your Blood Pressure Numbers

Hypertension, or blood pressure more than 120/80, doesn’t just affect older people—1 in 3 people have high blood pressure and many are younger than you think.

A recent study found that 19% of young adults between ages 24-32 have high blood pressure. Black women in particular are known to develop high blood pressure earlier in life, says the NIH’s Heart Truth Campaign.
High blood pressure is a silent killer—it doesn’t have any outward symptoms, so you need to be proactive about knowing and regularly checking your blood pressure. If you see the numbers creeping up, it’s time to see your healthcare provider. High blood pressure in women younger than 50 can even possibly signal other problems, such as with the thyroid or kidneys.

Risks of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke, renal disease, heart disease, and an abnormal heart rhythm—something experts call atrial fibrillation, or “A-fib” for short. Women with A-fib are more likely than men to suffer and die from stroke. But sadly, younger women are 28% less likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure by their care providers.

Protect Yourself

Know your numbers: Regularly check your blood pressure. It can change in a matter of weeks or months; checking it annually or every 2 years at your provider’s office is not enough. Invest in an automatic blood pressure cuff, participate in free BP checks, or regularly check it at your local pharmacy.

Move more: Stop sitting around. Get up and break from your desk or couch every few hours. Get 30-60 minutes of heart-pumping exercise most days of the week.

Stop bad habits: Smoking is strongly linked to hypertension. Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day.

Maintain a healthy weight: Is your BMI more than 24.9? Or is your waist circumference more than 35 inches? If so, it’s time to shed a few pounds. Even a small weight loss of 10 pounds can profoundly improve your blood pressure.

Re-evaluate any medications you’re taking: Birth control pills can double your risk of hypertension. Other seemingly harmless over-the-counter drugs, including non-steroidal painkillers like ibuprofen, cough and cold medicines, and even some allergy medicines, can increase your blood pressure.

Sleep well: Not getting enough sleep, or problems like sleep apnea are linked to high blood pressure.

Eat mindfully and healthfully: Eat less salt and animal fats and eat more low-fat calcium rich foods. Skip the supplements, the benefits in research have been seen only with real food.

Manage stress: Psychological stress seems to raise blood pressure, especially in women.

Kimberly Wilschek, RN, CCE, is an expert advisor to Healthy Mom&Baby in Chicago, IL.


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