May is ‘High Blood Pressure Awareness Month’

May is ‘High Blood Pressure Awareness Month’

By Kay Coles James

n What you don’t know could kill you

Could you be the next victim of the “silent killer” that claimed the lives of nearly 43,000 Americans in 1999 alone?

I am referring to high blood pressure or hypertension, a disease with no identifiable symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in four American adults this condition, and more than 31 percent do not even know it.

We all experience things that send our blood pressure soaring from time to time; in fact, our blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day. For many Americans, however, those highs are too high and last too long, and that can be life threatening.

High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States. In addition to the deaths directly attributable to hypertension, this silent killer contributes to more than 200,000 deaths a year.

Optimal adult blood pressure is 120/80 mm HG or lower. The top number, the systolic pressure, represents the pressure while the heart is beating. The lower number, or diastolic pressure, represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. A consistent systolic pressure of 140 or higher or diastolic pressure of 90 or more is considered high blood pressure. The higher the pressure rises, the greater the risks.

So it is important to measure and monitor your blood pressure. The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure recommends adults have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, check your blood pressure more frequently. Seeing your physician is crucial. Recent studies show that taking prescribed blood pressure medication can lower your pressure and postpone or prevent cardiac problems.

As is the case with so many health conditions, we can reduce our risk of high blood pressure through healthy lifestyle choices. If, like me, you know your day is going to be pressure filled, you might want to explore stress-management techniques. And yes, the basics apply. Smoking and carrying around excess weight put you at greater risk for high blood pressure. Start exercising and eat healthy foods. The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) found on the National Institutes for Health (NIH) Web site is low in salt and sodium and rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods.

As we are telling federal employees throughout our HealthierFeds campaign, better health begins with personal responsibility. So do not forget to exercise, eat right, and get that blood pressure checked. You do not want to be the silent killer’s next victim.

Kay Coles James is the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees the federal workforce and manages the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program that provides coverage to 8 millin federal employees, retirees and their dependents.

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