ASK THE EXPERT: Ways to lower blood pressure, improve your heart health

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – More than half of Americans have high blood pressure, but many don’t realize it, according to the American Heart Association.

Nurse practitioner Caroline Kissam is a manager of Cardiology Research at Bon Secours’ Upstate Cardiology and has been conducting studies on the subject since 2000. She listed several factors that can contribute to having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

“Genetics plays a really big factor but also diet and stress,” she said. “Being overweight can cause that and a diet high in sodium is also a contributor. Kidney Disease as well [can be a factor] and sometimes medications you’re on can cause higher blood pressure.”

If you’re at risk, she recommended that you check your blood pressure at home or at your doctor’s office every 6 months and watch for warning signs, which can be difficult to detect.

“[Hypertension] is known as the silent killer because they’re not things you really pay attention to,” she said. “If you have chronic headaches that you can’t really attribute to anything else, that’s a sign [as well as] dizziness and fatigue.”

In 2017, the American College of Cardiology redefined its guidelines for blood pressure in adults to the following:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg;
  • Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
  • Hypertension Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
  • Hypertension Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that high blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, and a recent Brazilian study found that it can affect memory as early as middle age.

“Hypertension does not just affect one part of your body. Your blood vessels run through the body so they affect every organ system,” she said. “If you have prolonged high blood pressure, it damages the arterial wall,” Kissam explained. “In the brain, that manifests itself with memory issues over time… it can cause you to have an aneurysm in your brain. It can cause damage to arteries in your heart and cause you to develop cardiovascular disease that could cause problems down the line… it can also cause peripheral damage in your legs and extremities.”

To lower your blood pressure, Kissam recommended making diet and lifestyle changes

“Stop smoking, decrease your caffeine intake, and decrease fat and sodium in your diet. Try to lose some weight and exercise daily. We recommend 30 to 60 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week,” she said.

To improve your diet, she recommended avoiding foods that are high in sodium such as canned foods or fatty meats. She also suggested increasing your vegetable and fruit intake and limiting how many meals you order from restaurants. “Restaurants put a lot of salt in their foods,” she explained. “If you decrease your sodium levels, that decreases the amount of circulating blood volume too because water follows salt. You just retain more fluid when you have a high salt diet.”

If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, she recommended checking levels every 3 to 6 months.

“It’s good to take your blood pressure before your medicine and then maybe take it a few hours later so you can know what your baseline is,” she suggested.

To submit a health topic for our Ask the Expert series, click here.

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