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    Taking Blood Pressure Seriously

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | February 6th, 2022

    Taking Blood Pressure Seriously

    Last week I was so excited to share what I had learned, I forgot to mention that this past Friday was National Wear Red Day which represents a day when we raise awareness that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.  February is American Heart Month and I believe we can raise awareness every day – Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.  I want to pay particular attention to high blood pressure (hypertension) because as a country and globally we are not doing a good job getting it controlled. I do not believe that we take it as seriously as we should until it is too late. When I say we, I mean all of us – health care providers, patients, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and the community. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Control Hypertension was developed under the leadership of Dr. Jerome Adams because he recognized that in the United States we were not doing a good job when it comes to controlling high blood pressure and this is devastating to our community.

    • Nearly 58% of Black women over the age of 20 have high blood pressure – that is higher than any other ethnic or racial group.
    • Asian women with high blood pressure are less likely than other women to have their blood pressure under control.
    • More than 40% of Hispanic/Latino women have high blood pressure.

    About 1 in 3 adults are untreated and 3 in 4 (75%) of people do not have their blood pressure under control. When your blood pressure is not under control, it can affect your whole body. Uncontrolled high blood pressure puts you at risk of stroke, dementia, vision loss, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, sexual problems, and peripheral artery disease that can cause severe leg pain. High blood pressure is called the ‘silent disease’ because, by the time you feel something, the damage to the body is already done.

    Here are my recommendations:

    1. Get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. It may be more often if your blood pressure is abnormal. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults with high blood pressure are not aware that they have high blood pressure. Do not leave the office without knowing the exact number. Some people are still living with the old definition of high blood pressure as above 140/90. The definition of high blood pressure changed in 2017. High blood pressure is blood pressure over 130/80. Any blood pressure above 120/80, needs to be further evaluated and it may require some counseling.  Click here to see the definition of high blood pressure. 
    2. If you have high blood pressure and you are on medication, you should own a blood pressure monitor so that you can check your pressure at home. You need to make sure that it is fitted for your arm.
    3. Set goals. If you are on medication, you and your health care provider should set goals on where they would like your blood pressure to be. If you have not set goals then ask your provider – You have put me on this medication, what should be my blood pressure so that I know this medication is working? How long will this medication take to control my blood pressure? What happens if my blood pressure is not controlled, will I need additional medication?  If you are over 70 years old, you goals might be set higher.
    4. Take your medication as directed. There are several medication s to help control blood pressure. Some of the medications have side effects. Do not stop a medication without talking with your health care provider.  If you have side effects, they can lower the dose or may prescribe another medication. Also, if your blood pressure is controlled, do not stop your medication. Your blood pressure is controlled because of your medication.
    5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes:
      1. Eating a healthy diet Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet. Making drastic changes to your diet can be difficult, but if you can make a change in your diet at least once a week, that is a start.
      1. Maintaining a healthy weight – Wherever you are – normal weight, overweight or obese, let us start by not gaining anymore weight. You can click here for information.
      1. Getting enough exercise – It does not matter how many times you start and stop, the fact that you are willing to start again is progress.
      1. Stop smoking – if you need help, ask your health care provider.
      1. Limit alcohol use.
      1. Get your 7 – 9 hours of sleep. If you are having difficulty sleeping, you may need to be checked for a sleep disorder. Sometimes just getting treated for a sleep disorder like sleep apnea may help control your blood pressure.
      1. Find ways to reduce stressMeditation is really great.

    I will be taking blood pressure more seriously and I hope you will as well.

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    With her trademark wit and straightforward communication, Dr. Osuagwu continues to dole out valuable medical advice using the letter form and addressing women’s health conditions and issues in a method that was praised for its innovative approach in her earlier award-winning book, Letters to My Sisters: Plain Truths and Straightforward Advice from a Gynecologist. In this book, each letter is paired with reference sources and statistics about the condition that is the subject of the letter.

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