Managing your blood pressure

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1 Managing your blood pressure

2 What is blood pressure? Blood pressure measures the force of blood against your artery walls. This pressure allows your blood to push out to other parts of your body for circulation. It rises as your heart contracts and beats, and it falls when your heart relaxes between beats. If your blood isn t circulating properly, your vital organs will not get the oxygen and food they need to survive. How is blood pressure measured? Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. Both are measured in millimeters of mercury (mmhg). The larger top number measures systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The smaller bottom number measures diastolic pressure, which is the pressure when your arteries are at rest. Understanding your blood pressure and knowing your numbers are important parts of staying healthy. Sample blood pressure Diastolic pressure mmhg Systolic pressure Millimeters of mercury The blood pressure reading above would be considered a normal blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. What s a healthy blood pressure range? Normal blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mmhg. If your blood pressure is slightly higher than normal, you may not need to take medicine right away. But it is important to start taking the proper steps to control your blood pressure. If it measures within Stage 1 or Stage 2 (as noted in the chart on page 3), you will most often need to take medicine to control it. 1 2

3 What is hypertension, or high blood pressure? Normal blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mmhg. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is usually considered any reading greater than that. Hypertension is divided into three categories - Prehypertension, Stage 1 Hypertension and Stage 2 Hypertension. Prehypertension is defined as a blood pressure of /80-89 mmhg. Someone with prehypertension is at high risk for developing Stage 1 or Stage 2 Hypertension if changes are not made to their lifestyle or treatment plan. Stage 1 Hypertension is defined as a blood pressure of 140/90 to 159/99 mmhg. Stage 2 Hypertension is defined as a blood pressure of 160/100 mmhg or higher. Hypertension puts you at risk for many types of health problems. And the higher your blood pressure is, the more at risk you are. What was your last blood pressure reading? Use this table to find out what category you fall into. Blood Pressure Category Systolic (mmhg) Diastolic (mmhg) Normal Less than 120 and Less than 80 Prehypertension or Hypertension, stage or Hypertension, stage or higher or 100 or higher Causes of high blood pressure High blood pressure often doesn t have any symptoms. That s why it s called the silent killer. In fact, 90-95% of the cases of high blood pressure do not have a direct known cause. What are the effects of high blood pressure? Having high blood pressure can lead to many health problems. Some of the most common are: Stroke Heart attack Kidney failure Blindness Hardening of the arteries By learning about their numbers, working with their doctor and making lifestyle changes, most people are able to achieve and maintain a healthy blood pressure. Lifestyle changes to help prevent or control high blood pressure. On the next several pages, read about changes you can make to help prevent or control high blood pressure. See if there are one or two tips you could adopt. Every small change can make a difference. Lose weight Change your diet Exercise Quit smoking Reduce alcohol intake 3 4

4 Lose weight. Extra weight puts added strain on your heart. As your weight goes up, your blood pressure generally does, too. If you re overweight, even losing five to ten pounds may help to lower your blood pressure. Set goals that are realistic for weight loss. Goals should be specific, ones you can achieve and ones that are flexible. Examples of weight loss goals: 1. Eat slowly. It can take minutes for your brain to tell you that you re full. For at least one meal a day, I will eat slowly. 2. Decrease portion sizes. The meal should be the size of two fists: half vegetables, and one-fourth each of starch and lean meat or protein. For my largest meal, I ll eat proper portions. 3. Plan healthy snacks. They may include peanut butter and celery, apples and cream cheese or dried fruit and nuts. I ll eat healthy snacks this week. Change your diet reduce sodium (salt). Too much salt can cause your body to retain water. This can raise your blood pressure levels. A healthy diet should contain no more than 2,400 mg of sodium (about 1 teaspoon of table salt). That includes all sodium salt used in cooking, what comes in foods and what you add at the table. Your doctor may set an even lower goal for you. For information and helpful tools, visit the American Heart Association at or the National Institutes of Health at Tips to reduce salt: 1. Buy vegetables that are fresh, frozen (without sauce) or canned with no salt added. 2. Buy foods that have low or reduced salt, or have no salt added. 3. Rinse canned foods, such as tuna or chicken. 4. Use herbs, spices and salt-free seasonings when cooking and at the table. 5 6

5 Exercise Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week not only helps you to manage your blood pressure, it will also help you lose weight (if needed), decrease your stress and strengthen your heart. The key to adding physical activity into your lifestyle is to make small goals and build on them. Below is an example of some goals you may set. Always be sure to check with your doctor before you start exercising. Week 1-2 Goal: I will walk 15 minutes during my lunch break and 15 minutes at the end of my work day, before driving home. I ll do this five days a week for the next two weeks. Week 3 Goal: I will keep walking, and I ll add five minutes to each walk. Week 4 Goal: I will keep walking 20 minutes twice a day, and I will add 10 minutes of hand weights each night while watching TV. Reward yourself for achieving your goals buy a new CD, get a manicure or maybe go to a movie. Quit smoking The nicotine in tobacco causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. It also decreases the amount of oxygen to the heart. It isn t easy to quit, but if you re ready to try, or try again, a great free resource is You can find tools and guides on quitting or talk to an expert to help you make a plan. Or, call QUITNOW( ). Reduce alcohol intake Consuming alcohol can cause a quick rise in blood pressure levels, making it difficult to control. Drinking alcohol regularly can cause blood pressure to rise. The general guideline is no more than 1 drink per day. But talk to your doctor about what s a safe amount for you. 7 8

6 Treating high blood pressure Losing weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can sometimes be enough to lower high blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine to help. Your medicine may work in one of three ways: 1. Remove excess salt and fluid from the body. 2. Expand narrow blood vessels to increase circulation. 3. Prevent blood vessels from narrowing. Questions to ask your doctor If your doctor does prescribe medicine, be sure to ask him or her these key questions: What s the name of the medicine? How does it work? Is it covered by my health plan, and is it the least costly option? Tracking your blood pressure at home Getting your blood pressure checked by your doctor is great, but it only gives you a reading for that moment in time. To better understand your blood pressure trends, it may be important to learn how to measure your blood pressure at home. Tips for measuring blood pressure at home Choose the right monitor. Visit your local pharmacy to get advice on the best device to use. There are many different types of monitors that range in price and accuracy. Bring it along. Take your monitor with you when you visit your doctor. After your doctor gives you a reading, take it again with your device to check for accuracy. Keep a log. Ask your doctor how often you should check your blood pressure at home, and record your entries with the attached log. How many times a day and at what time of day should I take it? What are the possible side effects? Which ones should I call you about? What should I do if I miss a dose? Is there anything I should avoid when taking the medication? Will I have to take it forever? When will you re-evaluate if I still need it? Tips for getting the best reading Don t measure your blood pressure right after you wake up. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco for at least 30 minutes before measuring. Sit upright with both feet on the floor and relax. 9 10

7 Blood pressure log Keep track of your blood pressure readings with this handy log. Be sure to bring it with you to your next doctor visit. My goal Reading Date/Time Notes Within my goal? I should notify my doctor if my blood pressure is over for days or less than for days. The information provided in this document is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for your doctor s care. Please discuss with your doctor how the information provided is right for your treatment plan. Insurance coverage provided by or through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or its affiliates. Administrative services provided by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company, United HealthCare Services, Inc. or their affiliates United HealthCare Services, Inc. OA MBU A

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