2004-04-08 / Savvy Senior


Dear Savvy Senior,


My aunt, who is 71, has always been in really good health and very active, so we were stunned when she had a devastating stroke last month! Her doctor told us that her stroke was the result of high bloodpressure. I know for a fact that she didn’t know she had high bloodpressure. My questions is, what is considered high bloodpressure and is there anything she could have done to recognize it?

Hypertensed Helen

Dear Helen,

High blood pressure is very difficult to recognize. That’s why it’s known as the "silent killer," because most people don’t know they have it unless the get their blood pressure checked. In fact, by age 75, two out of three people in the United States will have high blood pressure but one third of them won’t know they have it.

When you have high blood pressure (hypertension), what happens is the force of blood against your artery walls is too strong, and can damage your arteries, heart, and kidneys, which can lead to strokes, heart attacks, kidney failures and even blindness. Your blood pressure measurement consists of two numbers: systolic and diastolic. The first number is the systolic pressure, that measures the pressure your heart generates when pumping blood through the arteries. The diastolic blood pressure is the second number and represents the pressure in your arteries when your heart is at rest between beats.

Hypertension and Treatment

There has been a lot of confusion about what constitutes high blood pressure. Here’s what many experts conclude:

• Ideal blood pressure: 115/75

• Prehypertension: 120/80 to 139/89, usually calls for some lifestyle changes like losing excess weight, exercising, cutting back on salt, and eating a healthy diet low in saturated fats.

• Stage 1 hypertension: 140/90 to 159/99, usually calls for lifestyle changes and medical treatment such as a diuretic or water pill.

• Stage 2 hypertension: 160/100, usually requires lifestyle changes and treatment with two or more antihypertensive medications.

Check Your Pressure

It’s very important to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. If you currently have hypertension or prehypertension, you might consider buying a home blood pressure unit to monitor your blood pressure between doctors visits. They cost around $100. Arm cuff gauges are more accurate than finger or wrist cuffs. It’s also important to know that many people have "white coat hypertension," which is people who become anxious in the doctor’s office and their pressure rises, leading to misdiagnosis. Another way to monitor your blood pressure is through supermarket machines, however depending on the store, they may not be totally reliable.


High blood pressure affects more than 50 million Americans, but can be controlled through a combination of medication, diet and exercise. Here are some lifestyle changes that can help:

• Eat well. Eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy products, with reduced amounts of saturated fats.

• Decrease your salt intake. Salt causes the body to retain fluids, elevating blood pressure.

• Increase your potassium intake to a recommended 31,500 mg per day. Potassium aids in salt excretion, lowering blood pressure. Some foods rich in potassium are ,citrus fruits, apples, bananas, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes and peas. You can also take a multivitamin supplement that contains potassium.

• Exercise and maintain a healthy weight. A brisk walk several times a week can help reduce blood pressure by five to 10 points.

• Limit your alcohol consumption. Excessive drinking raises heart rate and blood pressure.

• Don’t smoke. Smoking elevates blood pressure.

Savvy Resources

• National Heam, Lung and Blood Institute: Offers comprehensive information on lowering your bloodpresure. Visit www.nhlbi.nih. gov/health/public/heart/index.htm. The American Society of Hypertension: The largest U.S. organization dedicated to hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Visit www.ashus.org.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.

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