Take Care of Your Blood Pressure, Lower Your Stroke Risk

By Jeanie Hammer

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke. Decreasing your blood pressure numbers by just a few points can lower your risk of stroke up to 40 percent.

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What is blood pressure?                                                                     
Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure in your arteries while your heart is pumping (contracting) and while your heart is resting. So, you’ll see blood pressure written with one number over another such as 125/80. The top number is called the systolic and measured while the heart is contracting. The bottom number is the diastolic and measured while the heart is at rest.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, accounts for 35-50% of stroke risk. If you can lower your top blood pressure number by just 10 points and the bottom number by 5 points you can lower your risk of stroke up to 40%. That’s a huge reduction. 

High blood pressure can be silent meaning you may have high blood pressure, but you’ve never experienced any symptoms. Some folks may have headaches, chest pressure or dizziness. Most commonly though, there are no symptoms at all. We worry about blood pressure because we know over time it can lead to a stroke or a heart attack. Years and years of high blood pressure causes a lot of wear and damage to both the blood vessels and the heart which causes them to wear out faster than they should. 

How can I prevent having high blood pressure?                                                 
Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent high blood pressure. Avoiding a lot of extra salt in your diet will also help. Thirty minutes of exercise per day for five days a week should be the goal. Those who battle high blood pressure should limit salt (sodium) intake to 2,000 mg a day and eat a good healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. 

The DASH diet​ is a good diet to consider if you have high blood pressure. You will also need to read labels to look for the sodium (salt) content in different foods. Sometimes though, if there’s a family history of high blood pressure, you won’t be able to get your blood pressure down with diet and exercise alone. That’s when medications may be needed. 

If you battle with high blood pressure, I recommend getting a blood pressure cuff for your home. You can purchase a cuff at your local pharmacy. Take your blood pressure daily and write it down, keeping a log in a notebook. When you see your primary care physician, you can take your blood pressure log. To prevent stroke, we’d like the blood pressure to be 125/80 or below. 

Fortunately, reducing blood pressure is usually something you have control over by making small, but valuable changes in your lifestyle such as improved exercise and nutrition habits.