Lowering High Blood Pressure

Basic Facts

  • High blood pressure speeds up hardening of the arteries, which increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and other serious diseases.
  • Controlling high blood pressure lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Eating a diet that is low in sodium and high in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help reduce high blood pressure.
  • High blood pressure is blood pressure that consistently measures at or above 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg).
  • People who have blood pressure below 120/80 mm/Hg have normal blood pressure.
  • Blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called prehypertension.
  • It’s important to prevent and treat high blood pressure. Although high blood pressure causes no symptoms, it damages the linings of the arteries and causes atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. As a result, the risks for heart and vascular disease increase.
  • Fortunately, patients can manage or lower their blood pressure with dietary changes, other lifestyle changes, and/or medications.
  • An eating plan called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) significantly reduces high blood pressure. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, and high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. The DASH diet can reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 8 to 14 mm/Hg, and reducing sodium intake can reduce systolic blood pressure by an additional 2 to 8 mm/Hg.

Positive Impact of Proper Management

Effectively managing and reducing high blood pressure will lower the risk for the following diseases and health conditions:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysms and other conditions of the aorta
  • Angina pectoris
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Atrial arrhythmias
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Diabetic vascular disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Aortoiliac disease

Getting Started

Before recommending treatment options, the physician will do tests and analyze the patient’s current state of health, including:

  • Measure blood pressure regularly
  • Performs a physical examination
  • Asks about the patient’s health history and lifestyle factors

Diseases like heart and vascular disease affect treatment recommendations and blood pressure goals. Existing conditions will need to be taken into consideration as a treatment plan is developed.

Management Options

The physician may recommend combining the DASH eating plan with a reduced sodium intake. A reduced-sodium intake is less than 2,400 mg of sodium a day (1 teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium).

In general, the DASH eating plan emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products. The diet limits red meats, fats and oils, and sugar-laden foods and products. The DASH plan also recommends including nuts, seeds, and legumes in the regular diet. Although the program is based on 2,000 calories a day, the physician will help to determine a patient’s unique caloric needs.

People who switch to a DASH-type diet may consume more fiber than they are used to. A high fiber intake can cause gas, diarrhea, or other digestive problems in some people. Introducing high-fiber foods gradually can help patients avoid or lessen these symptoms.

In addition to following a healthier diet, patients should make other lifestyle changes to manage or lower their blood pressure. These changes include:

  • Losing weight
  • Limiting alcohol consumption to 2 or fewer drinks a day
  • Exercising
  • Quitting smoking

Timeline of Effectiveness

In studies, many patients following the DASH diet experienced lower blood pressure within 2 weeks of starting the diet. Physicians recommend that patients make lifestyle changes for at least 3 months before determining overall effectiveness.

If lifestyle changes have not sufficiently lowered high blood pressure, the physician may prescribe medications. People who take medications should still continue making lifestyle changes. Patients who already take blood pressure medications should not stop using them once they start other lifestyle changes. Patients should always discuss their drug treatment with their physician.

[NOTE: This is an abbreviated version of the complete article. If you would like to read this article in its entirety, please call our office at (307) 778‐1849 and ask to meet with one of our specialists to receive a ‘Prescription Pad’ registration form. If you already have a ‘Prescription Pad’ form, please login and follow the instructions listed on the form. If you experience any issues during the registration process, please call member services at 1 (800) 603-1420 for assistance.]

Medical Review Date: August 11, 2009 / Copyright © 2012 NorthPoint Domain, Inc. All rights reserved. This material cannot be reproduced in digital or printed form without the express consent of NorthPoint Domain, Inc. Unauthorized copying or distribution of NorthPoint Domain’s Content is an infringement of the copyright holder’s rights.