Of all the problems eating away at our health, high blood pressure is one of the most common and most damaging. How common? Nearly a third of American adults have it. How dangerous? It makes you four times more likely to die from a stroke and three times more likely to die from heart disease.
High blood pressure is left untreated way too often—almost half of people who have it don’t have it under control. Now a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds a disturbing twist to that sad story. Of the 36 million Americans with uncontrolled high blood pressure, the study shows, 26 million had seen a health care provider at least twice in the previous year. Somehow we—doctors and patients alike—are letting treatment for a major epidemic fall through the cracks.
“Vital signs are called vital with good reason!” says preventive medicine expert David Katz, MD. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, and that means when hypertension is not well-controlled, strokes that don’t need to happen…do.”
So what’s going wrong? That’s not clear, say CDC researchers. A doctor may not check a patient’s blood pressure, or may not take the time to talk about diet, exercise, or medication to someone who came in for back pain or the flu. Or a patient may not feel motivated to make changes for a problem that isn’t causing any symptoms.
“We could point fingers at doctors or patients, but medicine is a partnership,” says Dr. Katz. “It may be that doctors are reluctant to prescribe medications to patients who are reluctant to take them.”
This is not a problem that requires big bucks or a high-tech fix. A few lifestyle changes can help you protect your health:
– don’t smoke
– maintain a healthy weight
– get active
– eat a blood-pressure friendly diet
– if you drink, do it in moderation
You should also help your doctor help you. At your next appointment, make sure your pressure is checked, and ask what the numbers are. Know what they mean: A reading of 120/80 should make you get serious about lifestyle changes. If your pressure is 140/90 or above, you may need to add medication to the mix, according to the CDC.
If your doctor tells you that you need medication, take the advice seriously. At his clinic, Katz often offers natural alternatives to help patients avoid pharmaceuticals. But, he says, “it doesn’t really matter if a remedy comes from a tree leaf or a test tube—it matters if it’s safe, and if taking it will make your health and life better. The anti-hypertensive that is the reason for the stroke you don’t have is a drug you do want to take.”
Do you know your blood pressure? Do you believe that high blood pressure is a serious health threat? Let us know in the comment box below.
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