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The hidden burden of high blood pressure

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AN alarming one in three adults has high blood pressure, reports the Harvard Health Beat newsletter. Known medically as hypertension, many people don’t even know they have it because it has no symptoms or warning signs. But when elevated blood pressure is accompanied by abnormal cholesterol and blood sugar levels, the damage to your arteries, kidneys, and heart accelerates. Fortunately, high blood pressure is easy to detect and treat. Sometimes people can keep blood pressure in a healthy range simply by making lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, increasing activity and eating more healthfully.

While it silently damages blood vessels, the heart and other organs, it isn’t a disease but a sign that something is wrong in the body. In some people, the culprit is a narrow- ing of the arteries supplying the kidneys, an overactive thyroid gland or adrenal glands. When these are treated, blood pressure drops. More often, though, doctors find no under- lying cause for high blood pressure. This is called essential hypertension.

The condition alters what you should eat and how active you need to be, since a low- sodium diet and exercise are important ways to help keep blood pressure in check. Some people may need to take one or more pills a day.

High blood pressure contributes to the development of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney disease. In the US, it accounts for about 60,000 deaths a year and contributes to another 300,000. The average life span for people with it is five years shorter than it is for those with normal blood pressure.

Still, there is a lot a person can do to help keep it in check. Achieve and maintain a
healthy weight for your height. Exercise regularly. Eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit sodi- um intake to under 2,300 milligrams a day (one teaspoon of salt), and get plenty of potassium (at least 4,700 mg per day) from fruits and vegetables. Drink alcohol in moder- ation, if at all. Reduce stress. Monitor your blood pressure regularly, and work with your doctor to keep it in a healthy range.

More Insights: Check out this article on how to build resilience as we age.

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