By BitMED Provider: Traci French MD

Hypertension or high blood pressure is a serious and common problem in the Western world. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans have a diagnosis of hypertension currently being treated by a doctor. Nearly half of us have abnormally elevated blood pressure and are unaware of the issue. Untreated high blood pressure leads to heart damage and stroke as well as several other health issues including memory loss, eye damage and kidney failure. 

Causes of Hypertension
Hypertension occurs when your blood pressure remains above 140/90 on multiple occasions. High blood pressure often is inherited, but preventable causes of hypertension include smoking, excessive alcohol intake, obesity, diabetes and lack of exercise. 

Diagnosis and Prevention
You can decrease your chances of getting high blood pressure by exercising 20 minutes 3-5 times per week, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking. Switching to a diet based primarily on plants and lean meats with minimal processed foods and restaurant meals will lower your blood pressure and help to obtain and maintain a healthy weight. Regular checkups with your medical provider will help you set healthy lifestyle goals as well as screen for health warning flags such as abnormal sugar levels. Yearly visits with your eye doctor can help prevent dangerous consequences of high blood pressure such as glaucoma or retinal disease.

Hypertension Treatment
Your doctor will likely begin treatment of elevated blood pressure by prescribing a low fat, low sodium diet along with an exercise regimen such as walking. Just losing 10 pounds can lower blood pressure significantly, especially when added with lifestyle changes such as stress reduction, smoking cessation and decreased alcohol intake. If lifestyle modification isn't sufficient, your doctor may recommend one or more medications or additional testing based on your personal history. It is important to take the medications as prescribed on a daily basis and follow up with your doctor periodically to ensure that your treatment regimen is effective. High blood pressure is a common and important illness that has dangerous consequences if left untreated, but it can be safely controlled when you and your doctor work together to develop a treatment plan.