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Take charge after a high blood pressure diagnosis

A woman sitting down taking her blood pressure at home.

If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, learn what you can do to stay healthy.

After a recent doctor's visit, you learned some important news about your health. You found out that you have high blood pressure.

That can be frustrating—maybe even scary. But it's not all bad news. There's actually a positive side to a high blood pressure diagnosis, in fact.

Why it's good to know

High blood pressure, or hypertension, usually doesn't have any symptoms you'd notice, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). For this reason, many people have high blood pressure and don't even know it.

That makes high blood pressure especially dangerous, according to the AHA. Even though you can't feel high blood pressure, it quietly damages the body.

So it's a good thing you now know your pressure is too high so you can put that knowledge into action and take steps to protect your health. But first, it may help to know a little more about high blood pressure.

Learn key blood pressure facts

Blood pressure refers to the force of blood pushing against your blood vessel walls. It's measured in two numbers: systolic, which is listed first, and diastolic, which is listed second.

Systolic is the pressure when your heart beats, and diastolic is the pressure between beats.

Blood pressure is considered normal when it's below 120/80 mm Hg. People with a systolic level of 120 to 129—and a normal diastolic level—are considered to have elevated blood pressure. Hypertension stage 1 means you have a systolic pressure of 130 to 139 or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89. Hypertension stage 2 means you have a systolic pressure of 140 or higher or a diastolic pressure of 90 or higher.

Pressure that's too high boosts the workload of your heart and arteries. This increases your risk for:

  • Clogging of the arteries throughout your body.
  • Heart attack.
  • Heart failure.
  • Stroke.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Vision loss.

The good news? Taking steps to bring your blood pressure levels down reduces your risk for all of these problems.

Getting it under control

Work with your healthcare provider on a plan to manage your blood pressure.

That plan may include steps like these:

1. Manage your weight. If you're overweight or obese, losing weight helps reduce strain on your heart.

2. Eat better and limit salt. Too much salt, or sodium, in your diet can boost blood pressure. Avoid sodium-filled food, and cut back on the amount of salt you use to cook. Your doctor also may advise following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This is a heart-healthy eating plan designed to bring down blood pressure levels. It stresses choosing a diet that's low in saturated fat and added sugar but high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

3. Keep fit. Regular exercise can reduce blood pressure levels by about five to eight points, the American College of Sports Medicine reports. Even if that's not enough to bring your pressure to normal levels, staying fit can offer other health benefits, such as weight control and a reduced risk for heart attack and stroke. Get your doctor's advice on incorporating exercise into your life.

4. Take medicines as directed. Along with lifestyle changes, medications may be needed to help some people control their blood pressure. If necessary, your doctor will prescribe a medication for you. Be sure to use it as directed, and don't stop using it without talking to your doctor first. Sometimes it takes several weeks for your body to adjust before a medicine starts working well.

5. Keep up with your doctor appointments and blood pressure checks. Regular checkups will allow you and your provider to monitor how well your management plan is working. Your doctor can tell you how often to get your levels checked. Let your doctor know how you're doing in terms of lifestyle changes. Voice any questions you have.

6. Live life! While you may need to make a few adjustments, having high blood pressure shouldn't get in the way of living an enjoyable life.

Reviewed 1/8/2021

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