The American Heart Association recently released its first set of comprehensive guidelines since 2003 lowering the definition of high blood pressure. The change comes in an effort to provide earlier intervention to aid in disease prevention. Also called hypertension, high blood pressure greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Anyone can develop high blood pressure, including children, and the new guidelines will result in nearly half of U.S. adults having hypertension.
“Keeping your heart healthy starts with recognizing the risk factors,” said Vijay Subbarao, MD, cardiologist with Denver Heart. “While you can’t control all the risk factors for high blood pressure, close monitoring may help with the prevention of serious complications like heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease.”
When caught early, high blood pressure can be treated with lifestyle changes and/or medication. Know the following risk factors that contribute to high blood pressure and what you can do to protect yourself.
One of the risk factors for high blood pressure, family history is something you can’t control. Hereditary hypertension means your close blood relatives may also have high blood pressure. Research shows that certain genes may be associated with high blood pressure, and fetal DNA changes may contribute to hypertension risk later in life. Keep your family history up to date and notify your doctor if you have a family history of hypertension.
African Americans are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, especially earlier in life. They may have a gene that makes the body more sensitive to salt, so consuming less sodium is more important for disease prevention in this group. Additionally, more than 40 percent of non-Hispanic blacks have hypertension, which may be caused by an already higher rates of obesity and diabetes.
Age and Gender
Over time, your blood vessels and arteries lose flexibility and become stiff, causing increased blood pressure. Because blood pressure typically increases with age, it’s important to monitor for hypertension later in life. After age 40, get an annual blood pressure screening, or more often if you have a history of smoking.
Your gender also influences your risk of high blood pressure, so it’s important to monitor your blood pressure more closely at certain life stages. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with hypertension under the age of 45, and women are more prone to high blood pressure during menopause and after age 65.
“Pregnant women may also develop pregnancy-induced hypertension, which normally goes away after delivery,” said Dr. Subbarao. “In severe cases, gestational hypertension can turn into preeclampsia, a condition that may harm mom and baby."
Weight and Diet
Carrying added weight can cause your blood pressure to rise because your body has to work harder to support itself, which can place more strain on your blood vessels and heart. Lowering your body mass index (BMI) to a healthy level— between 18.5 to 24.9—can help lower your blood pressure.
When it comes to diet, your doctor may tell you to ditch the salt to help lower high blood pressure, and there are other heart-healthy foods that can naturally improve your health—even without medication. Strive for a well-rounded diet full of fruit, dark green vegetables, low-fat dairy and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon. While you’re at it, the American Heart Association recommends limiting artery clogging saturated fats, trans fats and sugar.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your heart has to work harder during the day, which can lead to high blood pressure. Try to get a healthy seven or eight hours of sleep each night to reduce your risk of developing hypertension. Certain conditions like sleep apnea can interrupt your sleep and contribute to your risk of hypertension.
“With sleep apnea, your breathing lapses up to 30 times per hour,” said Dr. Subbarao. “But popular treatment tools like CPAP machines and mandibular advancement devices have been shown to be effective in reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers.”
If you have risk factors for high blood pressure, find a cardiology specialist and make an appointment.