How can I prevent high blood pressure?
If you don't have high blood pressure now, you can take steps to prevent it. While you can't do anything about some risk factors for high blood pressure (such as age, family history, and race), there are other risk factors you can reduce by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle. These include being overweight, being inactive and not exercising regularly, and eating a diet high in salt and fat. You can help prevent high blood pressure by taking the following steps:
- Control your weight, or lose weight if you are overweight. Losing even 10 pounds will help. Calculate your BMI here
- Exercise regularly—30 minutes of moderate exercise a day most days of the week is best.
- Follow a healthy eating plan, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables and low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and limit the amounts of saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol.
- Limit your daily intake of sodium to less than 2,400 mg (about ¾ teaspoon of salt). This includes the salt you add from the salt shaker and the salt that is already in prepared foods. Read product labels so you know what you are eating. If you would like to try a salt substitute, talk with your health care provider first because they may be harmful to people with certain medical conditions.
- Aim to consume at least 3,500 mg of potassium per day. Foods rich in potassium include bananas, cantaloupe, broccoli, and peas.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For women that means no more than 1 drink per day, equivalent to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces (a "shot") of 80-proof liquor.
- If you are taking birth control pills or hormone therapy, get regular blood pressure checks from your health care provider to find and control a blood pressure problem.
- If you smoke, quit. While smoking doesn't cause high blood pressure, it can temporarily raise blood pressure. In addition, smoking causes hardening of the arteries and increases your risk for stroke.
Talk with your health care provider if you need help with these steps or have any questions or concerns.
How is high blood pressure treated?
Although 3 out of 4 women with high blood pressure know they have it, only 1 of 3 women takes steps to control it. Women are less likely to have their blood pressure under control than men.9
For many people with high blood pressure, lifestyle changes including a healthy diet and exercise can reduce blood pressure to normal levels. For others, particularly those with heart disease, medication may also be needed. There are many kinds of medications used to treat high blood pressure, and most people require two or more kinds to lower their blood pressure to a healthy level. To learn more about these medications, visit the High Blood Pressure Medication section of this web site.
If you require medication, make sure you continue making heart-healthy lifestyle changes. These changes help the medication work better, and over time you may be able to reduce the doses of medication. In most cases, high blood pressure can be controlled with a healthy lifestyle and medication.
Can controlling my high blood pressure lower my risk for stroke?
If you have high blood pressure, the most important thing you can do to reduce your chances of having a stroke is to work with you doctor to get your blood pressure under control. Overall, treatment with high blood pressure medication lowers the risk of having a first stroke by 35% to 44%.10
Since stroke risk rises gradually with age, controlling isolated systolic hypertension, which is most common in the elderly, is very important for stroke prevention. In the Syst-Eur trial of 4695 patients with this type of high blood pressure (67% were women), treatment with a calcium channel blocker reduced stroke by 42% compared to placebo,11 an effect echoed in studies of other medications.12
In patients who've already had a stroke, combination therapy with ACE inhibitors and diuretics has been shown to reduce the chances of having another stroke, even in patients who don't have high blood pressure.13 The lower your blood pressure, the lower your risk of having another stroke.14
It is not known whether specific types of blood pressure-lowering medications have special benefits in reducing stroke risk. You should work with your doctor to find the drug or combination of drugs that works best for you: to prevent stroke, getting your blood pressure under control is more important than which specific medication is used.15