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Keeping Hypertension In Check

High blood pressure is a dangerous condition that raises the risk of serious illnesses. But many people may be unaware they have it, or what they can do to tackle the problem before it's too late. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay offers some advice.

High blood pressure - or hypertension - is when the force of blood against the walls of the arteries created by the heart as it pumps is too great. It adds to the workload of the heart and arteries, and over time can damage the heart, arteries and other organs. It increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and heart attack.

The only way to tell if you have hypertension is to get it tested. Health officials have issued stricter definitions for high blood pressure, saying doctors should be much more aggressive with people showing early signs.

Here are some blood pressure guidelines:

  • 120 over 80 is now the upper limit of healthy blood pressure, and people with diabetes should keep it even lower.
  • The guidelines urge early intervention with lifestyle changes for pre-hypertension, or blood pressures between 120 over 80 and 139 over 89.
  • Medications should be considered for people with pressures above 140 over 90.

The way to reduce or avoid high blood pressure is to lose weight, eat foods low in fat and salt and high in potassium, stop smoking, limit caffeine and alcohol intake, get regular exercise, and manage stress. Medications can also help to keep blood pressure at healthy levels.

Experts say that the average American is probably getting as much as three times the recommended salt intake in his diet every day. The current recommendation is 1,500 milligrams a day, with the absolute maximum at 2,300 milligrams for the average adult. And because high blood pressure risk increases with age, older people should strive to eat even less salt as they get older: 1300 milligrams a day for those over 50, and 1200 milligrams for those over 70.

The guidelines also urge Americans to eat more potassium: 4700 milligrams per day, which helps lower blood pressure.

Because blood pressure can fluctuate throughout the day and can also fluctuate when you visit the doctor, home testing can give a doctor more information to better determine treatment.

There are a number of blood pressure devices - from manual to fully automatic - available for consumers to check themselves on a more regular basis. You should consult with your doctor before buying one, and they really are useful only when used in conjunction with your doctor as part of your ongoing care.

Basically, more information can reveal the severity of the problem, or if it's found that blood pressure is higher at certain times of the day, it can help the doctor with timing medications.

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