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Hypertension awareness: Tips for managing high blood pressure

Expert insight on starting your year with better heart health

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As we usher in 2024, embrace a fresh perspective on your well-being. Consider it a chance to take charge of your heart health, making informed choices that limit hypertension (otherwise known as high blood pressure). It’s not just about resolutions; it's a commitment to a heart-empowered year.

Janice Fordham, MD, Medical Director of Billings Rural Clinics and Family Medicine Physician at Intermountain Health, provided the do’s and don'ts for an empowering year of hypertension prevention.

Get acquainted with your hypertension risk

What’s the pulse on your heart health? Understanding hypertension risk factors is the first step. Hypertension affects almost half of American adults, so it’s important to know your risk. From lifestyle choices to genetic predispositions, there’s several elements that impact your heart.

“There’s a lot of ways your heart health can worsen if you don’t improve and treat your blood pressure,” said Dr. Fordham.

According to Dr. Fordham, there’s a few things to look out for, including aging, family history, and environmental factors such as diet, exercise, tobacco use, and sodium intake.

For family history, Dr. Fordham recommends letting your primary care provider know as soon as possible. They can identify modifications to prevent hypertension, such as medication or lifestyle changes.

When it comes to those environmental changes, each works differently. “By pulling all those different levers, by decreasing your sodium, increasing your hydration and activity levels, and more, you can improve your blood pressure,” said Dr. Fordham.

What happens with untreated hypertension?

Untreated hypertension can result in a range of complications, from heart attacks to strokes. Elevated blood pressure can have a domino effect on your body, making urgent management essential.

“The biggest part of leaving high blood pressure untreated means our heart has to work harder,” said Dr. Fordham. “It increases the risk of other cardiovascular conditions, like heart attacks and strokes, and even heart failure.”

A neglected heart can diminish your quality of life. Fatigue, shortness of breath, and a decreased ability to engage in daily activities are signals your heart needs attention. When these factors are left unchecked, they can become debilitating.

The journey to a healthier heart begins with awareness, and your commitment to understanding these nuances is a step towards a heart-empowered future.

Making a personalized hypertension care plan

Hypertension care is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Tailoring your heart health for unique needs makes a substantial difference.

“The best approach is talking to a patient, figuring out what their most important lifestyle modifications are, and tackling one at a time with buy-in from the patient,” said Dr. Fordham. “It’s more likely to be a long-term benefit if the patient has buy-in and helps create that plan.”

To explain, she shared a story about a patient with a serious soda addiction. After identifying the issue, they worked out a plan together to cut back on soda. Pretty soon, the patient was drinking no soda, and only water.

“Now they feel empowered, and really excited and proud of themselves,” said Dr. Fordham. “They’re more engaged in their healthcare and ready to tackle the next problem.”

Being able to stay motivated in your hypertension prevention is key. However, Dr. Fordham warned against setting unrealistic goals. She provided the example of an identified weight loss strategy. If you make a goal of losing 20 pounds in a month, you may end up discouraged if you don’t meet that milestone.

“Once you tackle those short-term goals, you can look to the next step,” she said.

As you step into the year ahead, envision a heart-empowered 2024. The power to transform your heart health is not just a resolution but a journey towards a healthier, happier you. 

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