Having high blood pressure or hypertension can be a little frightening. But the problem can be effectively treated and managed, so you don't have to be afraid.

If you're one of the millions of Americans with high blood pressure, you need to try to control it, the American Heart Association (AHA) says. Doing so will reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious illness caused by the condition.

Fortunately, by simply doing the things your doctor recommends, you can lower your blood pressure and your health risks.

Medication musts

  • If you're on medication, be patient. Give yourself a chance to adjust to a drug, even though it may take several weeks. Work with your doctor until you find the right drug combination that works for you, the AHA says. If you have side effects, tell your doctor; don't stop taking your medication.

  • Never skip a dose. Keep taking your medicine even when you feel well.

Healthy lifestyle

  • Keep in shape. Eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise will help your medicines do their job and help you manage your weight. If you're overweight, losing weight will help you control your blood pressure.

  • Don't smoke. Smoking increases your chance of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious health problem. Each cigarette also temporarily increases your blood pressure. The effect is not long lasting, but if you’re smoking a pack a day, the effect happens 20 times per day. That works out to about two hours of elevated blood pressure a day from smoking.

  • Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day, as well as two to four servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Consider following the low-sodium DASH diet, which is high in fruits and vegetables, and includes low-fat and nonfat dairy products.

  • Use less salt. Don't use salt during cooking; try a salt-free seasoning substitute instead. Don't salt food before you taste it. Substitute herbs and spices as flavoring. Eat fewer salty foods, such as potato and corn chips, luncheon meat, hot dogs, dill pickles, and canned foods.

  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day (for women) or two drinks a day (for men).

  • Try to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity, such as a brisk walk, on most days of the week.

High blood pressure won't go away on its own, and if you return to your old habits or stop taking medication, it can return. Controlling your blood pressure is a lifelong task that can make your life longer and help you avoid conditions that can cause disabilities, such as a stroke or heart attack.

Medical Reviewer: [Foster, Sara RN MPH, Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Lambert, J.G. M.D.] Last Annual Review Date: 2010-05-10T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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