What Are High Blood Pressure and hypertension?
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. Blood pressure rises
and falls throughout the day. When blood pressure stays elevated over time, it’s called
high blood pressure.
The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension. High blood pressure is dangerous
because it makes the heart work too hard and contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening
of the arteries). It increases the risk of heart disease (see box 1) and stroke, which are the
first- and third-leading causes of death among Americans. High blood pressure also can
result in other conditions, such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and blindness.
Risk factors you can control
Risk factors you can control
High blood pressure
A blood pressure level of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high. About two-thirds
of people over age 65 have high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is between
120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg, then you have prehypertension. This means that you
don’t have high blood pressure now but are likely to develop it in the future unless you
adopt the healthy lifestyle changes described in this brochure.
How Can You Prevent or Control High Blood Pressure?
If you have high blood pressure, you and your health care provider need to work together as
a team to reduce it. The two of you need to agree on your blood pressure goal. Together, you
should come up with a plan and timetable for reaching your goal.
Blood pressure is usually measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is recorded as
two numbers—systolic pressure (as the heart beats) “over” diastolic pressure (as the heart
relaxes between beats)—for example, 130/80 mmHg. Ask your doctor to write down for
you your blood pressure numbers and your blood pressure goal level.
Monitoring your blood pressure at home between visits to your doctor can be helpful.
You also may want to bring a family member with you when you visit your doctor.
Having a family member who knows that you have high blood pressure and who understands
what you need to do to lower your blood pressure often makes it easier to make
the changes that will help you reach your goal.
The steps listed in this brochure will help lower your blood pressure. If you have normal
blood pressure or prehypertension, following these steps will help prevent you from
developing high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, following these steps
will help you control your blood pressure
What you eat affects your chances of getting high blood pressure. A healthy eating plan
can both reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower a blood pressure
that is already too high.
For an overall eating plan, consider DASH, which stands for “Dietary Approaches to
Stop Hypertension.” You can reduce your blood pressure by eating foods that are low in
saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and high in fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy
foods. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts, and has low
amounts of fats, red meats, sweets, and sugared beverages. It is also high in potassium,
calcium, and magnesium, as well as protein and fiber. Eating foods lower in salt and
sodium also can reduce blood pressure.
Box 6 gives the servings and food groups for the DASH eating plan. The number of
servings that is right for you may vary, depending on your caloric need.
The DASH eating plan has more daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains than
you may be used to eating. Those foods are high in fiber, and eating more of them may
temporarily cause bloating and diarrhea. To get used to the DASH eating plan, gradually
increase your servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Box 7 offers some tips on how to
adopt the DASH eating plan.
A good way to change to the DASH eating plan is to keep a diary of your current eating
habits. Write down what you eat, how much, when, and why. Note whether you snack
on high-fat foods while watching television or if you skip breakfast and eat a big lunch.
Do this for several days. You’ll be able to see where you can start making changes.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you should choose an eating plan that is lower in calories.
You can still use the DASH eating plan, but follow it at a lower calorie level. (See box 8.)
Again, a food diary can be helpful. It can tell you if there are certain times that you eat but
aren’t really hungry or when you can substitute low-calorie foods for high-calorie foods.
Use More Spices and Less Salt
An important part of healthy eating is choosing foods that are low in salt (sodium
chloride) and other forms of sodium. Using less sodium is key to keeping blood pressure
at a healthy level.
Most Americans use more salt and sodium than they need. Some people, such as African
Americans and the elderly, are especially sensitive to salt and sodium and should be
particularly careful about how much they consume.
Most Americans should consume no more than 2.4 grams (2,400 milligrams) of sodium
a day. That equals 6 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of table salt a day. For someone with high
blood pressure, the doctor may advise less. The 6 grams includes all salt and sodium
consumed, including that used in cooking and at the table.
Before trying salt substitutes, you should check with your doctor, especially if you have
high blood pressure. These contain potassium chloride and may be harmful for those
with certain medical conditions.
Box 9 offers some tips on how to choose and prepare foods that are low in salt and sodium
Basil Soups and salads, vegetables, fish, and meats
Cinnamon Salads,vegetables, breads, and snacks
Chili Powder Soups,salads, vegetables, and fish
Cloves Soups, salads,and vegetables
Dill Weed and Dill Seed Fish, soups, salads, and vegetables
Ginger Soups, salads, vegetables, and meats
Marjoram Soups, salads, vegetables, beef, fish, and chicken
Nutmeg Vegetables, meats, and snacks
Oregano Soups, salads, vegetables, meats, and snacks
Parsley Salads, vegetables, fish, and meats
Rosemary Salads, vegetables, fish, and meats
Sage Soups, salads, vegetables, meats, and chicken
Thyme Salads, vegetables, fish, and chicken
Maintain a healthy weight
• Check with your health care provider to see if you need to lose weight.
• If you do, lose weight slowly using a healthy eating plan and engaging in
Be physically active
• Engage in physical activity for a total of 30 minutes on most days of the week.
• Combine everyday chores with moderate-level sporting activities, such as walking,
to achieve your physical activity goals.
Follow a healthy eating plan
• Set up a healthy eating plan with foods low in saturated fat, total fat, and
cholesterol, and high in fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy foods such as the
DASH eating plan.
• Write down everything that you eat and drink in a food diary. Note areas that are
successful or need improvement.
• If you are trying to lose weight, choose an eating plan that is lower in calories.
Reduce sodium in your diet
• Choose foods that are low in salt and other forms of sodium.
• Use spices, garlic, and onions to add flavor to your meals without adding more
Drink alcohol only in moderation
• In addition to raising blood pressure, too much alcohol can add unneeded calories
to your diet.
• If you drink alcoholic beverages, have only a moderate amount—one drink a day
for women, two drinks a day for men.
Take prescribed drugs as directed
• If you need drugs to help lower your blood
pressure, you still must follow the lifestyle changes
• Use notes and other reminders to help you
remember to take your drugs. Ask your family
to help you with reminder phone calls and messages