Nearly one in three Americans has high blood pressure. If you are among them, you know that you can manage the condition with your health care provider's help. In most cases, high blood pressure responds to treatment, but the success of the treatment is up to you.

Normal blood pressure is any reading less than 120/80. If your blood pressure reading is between 120/80 and 139/89, you have "prehypertension," which means you are likely to develop high blood pressure if you don't take action to prevent it. High blood pressure is a reading of 140/90 or higher.

Even if you don't have high blood pressure, or hypertension, it's a good idea to get your blood pressure checked once a year. That's because high blood pressure generally does not produce symptoms that you can see or feel.

If you do have high blood pressure, it's important to know that untreated hypertension can result in serious illnesses, such as coronary artery disease, stroke and kidney failure.

You can take charge of your condition by making lifestyle changes and/or taking blood pressure medication. By taking these steps, you will feel better and live longer. You'll also prevent additional health problems that can be caused by uncontrolled hypertension.

The risk factors for high blood pressure are divided into two categories: those you can't control and those you can.

Uncontrollable risk factors

You can't control these risk factors for high blood pressure:

  • Heredity. Your chances of developing high blood pressure are greater if your parents or other close relatives had it.

  • Gender. Men are more likely to develop the condition than women until age 55; a woman's risk increases after menopause.

  • Age. High blood pressure occurs most often in men older than 35 and in women older than 45. Risk increases with age.

  • Race. African Americans develop high blood pressure at a younger age than whites do. High blood pressure also tends to affect African Americans more seriously.

Lifestyle adjustment

The more uncontrollable risk factors you have, the more important it is to make the right decisions regarding those risk factors you can control.

Consult your health care provider about making lifestyle adjustments to eliminate these controllable risk factors:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight often causes your blood pressure to drop. Some people may lower their blood pressure enough to stop taking medication for the condition.

  • Get regular exercise. Regular aerobic exercise tones your heart, blood vessels and muscles and keeps your blood pressure low. Talk to your provider before beginning an exercise program.

  • Learn how to deal with stress. Meditate, listen to stress-management tapes or do relaxation exercises daily. Stressed individuals often have high blood pressure.

  • Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit. Smoking increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.

  • Drink only in moderation. Heavy, regular consumption of alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically. Experts recommend no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

  • Take your blood pressure medicine as prescribed.

Make diet changes

A diet too high in sodium causes the body to retain water, which increases the volume of blood in circulation. This increases the pressure in the arteries.

The average adult needs 2,200 mg of sodium per day, but many Americans consume 10 times that amount. To reduce your sodium intake:

  • Avoid high-salt foods such as soy sauce, potato or corn chips, chicken broth, pickles, canned soups, bacon, ham and many convenience and frozen foods.

  • Purchase no- or low-salt products whenever possible.

  • Avoid adding salt at the table.

  • Increase your intake of potassium, which helps flush sodium from the body. Good sources of potassium include cantaloupe, cooked tomatoes, bananas, baked potatoes, strawberries and summer squash. Experts recommend getting at least 3,500 mg of potassium each day.

In addition, make sure you eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Limit the amount of total fat and saturated fat in your diet.

Medical Reviewer: [Brown, Carolyn RN, MN, CCRN, CNS, Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Lambert, J.G. M.D.] Last Annual Review Date: 2008-02-23T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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The amount of alcohol you drink has nothing to do with your blood pressure.