1 Jan 2023
High Blood Pressure: Everyone Has a Role To Play
Estimated read time: 3 minutes
Scientists agree: A normal blood pressure level is 120/80 mmHg or lower. But among the 1.28 billion adults worldwide who have hypertension, less than half — 42% — are managing their condition to stay within those ranges.
In Latin America, only 35% of women and 23% of men who are diagnosed with hypertension have their blood pressure under control.
And in the United States, almost half of all adults — 116 million people or 47% — have hypertension, but only one in four of them (24%) are keeping it under control.
Hypertension is among the main risk factors of heart disease, one of the four most common medical conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean along with diabetes, cancer, and respiratory illnesses. At the same time, it is one of the most reversible risk factors of these diseases.
Worldwide, the number of people who have hypertension has multiplied between 1990 and 2019, largely due to factors that can be controlled or modified. Although genetics plays some role in high blood pressure, hypertension is typically triggered by lifestyle habits that slowly and gradually worsen this condition.
The most efficient approach to preventing and keeping high blood pressure under control involves a delicate balance of policy decisions (laws regulating salt content in products, public health education campaigns, access to primary health care) and individual lifestyle choices.
How to Manage High Blood Pressure at Home
1. First, learn to measure your blood pressure. High blood pressure is not typically accompanied by immediate symptoms. Experts warn that only in the case of a severe hypertensive crisis (above 180/120 mm Hg) do symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and eye redness present themselves. But if systolic blood pressure is between 120/80 and 129/80, which is considered high; or if it is considered stage 1 (130-139/80-90) or stage 2 hypertension (140/90 or above), it’s time to see a medical provider. The ability to measure one’s blood pressure at home improves the chances of detecting this condition, which is known as the” silent killer” because it often shows no warning signs.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) when using the traditional device utilized by doctors, which is called a sphygmomanometer and consists of a glass column filled with mercury. While this type of device is not difficult to use, digital blood pressure monitors available today offer a simple and precise alternative.
But this doesn’t mean you should measure your blood pressure every hour on the hour. Keep in mind that blood pressure levels are not written in stone and change depending on the time of day, after a meal or physical activity, or during a stressful situation. It’s best to speak with your primary care doctor to determine how often to use your monitor.
Knowing your blood pressure numbers is a great way to be better prepared for your doctor’s appointments, and will help your provider make the best recommendations for hypertension prevention.
2. The second step is keeping your blood pressure in check (or, if possible, lower it). If you find your blood pressure is in the 120-129 range, it’s best to take some precautionary measures now. If you are overweight, shedding a few pounds is advisable. Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential, which is why a nutritious diet without saturated fats or an excess of carbohydrates is key, as is limiting your consumption of alcohol.
Reducing fat and excess weight can help reduce the strain on the heart, lungs, blood vessels, and skeleton. Limiting the following can help in the battle against hypertension:
- Trans and saturated fats (especially those found in fried foods)
- Sodium (read food labels and remember that sodium content listed corresponds to a portion, not the entire product)
- Red meats (with the exception of lean meats)
- Sweets and sweetened beverages (especially those with added sugar; remember to check the labels here as well)
3. The third step? Getting better sleep. Blood pressure is also linked to our nighttime habits. People who sleep six hours or less may have steeper increases in blood pressure. For those already diagnosed with hypertension, it’s even more critical to maintain good sleep hygiene.
Experts believe that sleep helps control the hormones needed to manage both stress and metabolism. With time, a lack of sleep can cause hormonal changes that can lead to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors.
Blood pressure is naturally lower at night while we sleep; difficulty sleeping inevitably means that our blood pressure will be higher for longer. You could say sleep is a natural regulator of blood pressure.
4. Fourth step: Learn to manage your stress. Stress is a natural part of life. It’s necessary in order to face daily challenges, from a new job to a final exam. But this healthy stress is usually temporary and goes away after the moment of tension has passed. When stress gets out of control, however, it can lead to elevated blood pressure.
Studies have shown that cumulative exposure to daily stressors and exposure to traumatic stress can increase the risk of hypertension, and consequently elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease risk as well. A growing body of research supports the “mind-heart-body connection,” which implies that a person's mind can positively or negatively affect cardiovascular health, the risk of cardiovascular disease events, and cardiovascular prognosis over time.
In addition to common strategies for managing stress, such as sleeping well, meditating, exercising, muscle relaxation, and participating in activities you enjoy, you might also try:
- Leaning on — and helping — others. Studies show that having a strong social network of friends and family can strengthen our resilience to stress. Helping and supporting others can also increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions.
- Don’t use alcohol to relax. We often turn to drinking in the hopes of easing our stress, when in reality, alcohol has the opposite effect. Alcohol and other substances don’t address the root of our problems and can have serious impacts on our health.
- Go “green.” Several studies around the world have found that green spaces improve our mood. Even videos of nature can have a positive effect on stress, compared to videos of cities and urban spaces. Taking a moment to spend time in nature — even if it’s just your bustling neighborhood park — can help you refocus and calm the mind.
As the World Health Organization points out, everyone has a role to play in the prevention and control of hypertension. The agency advocates for global strategies that support governments, policy-makers, and civil society actors in both the private and public sectors in their efforts to engage both individuals and communities.
The Pan-American Life Insurance Group (PALIG) has developed a Personal Health Journal to help you keep track of your health conditions, tests, and healthy lifestyle habits. This roadmap provides guidance on the key steps to take in order to ensure your well-being. It also includes information and links to the many health and disease prevention programs that PALIG is implementing in the region.
Remember, always consult with your physician or other qualified health care professional to determine the best options for your body and health, and to answer any questions you may have regarding any medical matter.