Under pressure: Focus on health

High blood pressure is one of the most neglected health conditions and most preventable risk factors, cardiologist says. You can check your blood pressure for free at several local locations.

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October 16, 2020 - 2:48 PM

Allen County Regional Hospital nurse Chelsea Buck will serve as the Million Hearts Collaboration’s local ambassador. She is sitting at the hospital’s new blood pressure kiosk. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

High blood pressure.

It’s one of the most neglected health conditions and, second only to nicotine, the most preventable risk factor.

“It’s a silent killer,” Dr. Tracy L. Stevens, cardiologist with the Saint Luke’s Health System, said. 

“Just because you feel well doesn’t mean your blood pressure is OK.”

Dr. Tracy StevensCourtesy photo

Allen County Regional Hospital is focusing on blood pressure, also called hypertension, as part of a health education push this month. The hospital also has joined the Million Hearts Collaboration, an initiative from the American Heart Association to educate, prevent and manage heart attack and stroke.

“If everyone in our community could take ownership of one thing to improve health, it’s blood pressure,” Stevens said. “Each of us, as an individual, is responsible for our health. It’s not going to a doctor once a year. It’s what you do in between, every day, that matters.”

Stevens is the medical director of Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center. 

TO HELP residents track their blood pressure, a new kiosk was allocated to the hospital from the Saint Luke’s inventory. 

See related story on why Allen County Regional Hospital – Saint Luke’s ended its maternity services.

The machine will allow patients and visitors to quickly and easily check their blood pressure. Visitors to the hospital are currently restricted because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the service will be available to employees, patients and those visitors who are allowed.

It is located in a hallway just north of the lobby at the main entrance. 

Blood pressure kiosks are also available at local pharmacies, including Iola Pharmacy and Walmart. 

Home blood pressure monitors also are available at pharmacies, retail stores and online.

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of checking your blood pressure on a regular basis, such as on the 15th of every month, Stevens said. 

Keep track of your scores and check with your physician to know what is an ideal score, tailored to your particular health situation. 

In general, your blood pressure should be less than 140 in the top number and less than 90 in the bottom number. In this range, a physician may prescribe medication and lifestyle changes. Ideally, it should be even lower, or 130 over 80. In this range, a physician may prescribe lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

“Every time you see a doctor, they take your blood pressure, but rarely do any of us go to a doctor just to talk about blood pressure and give it stand-alone attention,” Stevens said.

“Write down those numbers and see your provider. They’ll help you get through the weeds of what can be causing high blood pressure. Don’t hesitate in treating it.” 

To understand your results: 

The first number measures systolic blood pressure, which indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.

The second number, diastolic blood pressure, indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.

The first number is considered more of a risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people older than 50. It tends to increase with age, with increasing stiffness of arteries, plaque buildup and increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease. 

UNCONTROLLED blood pressure is the leading cause of numerous ailments.

They include such things as dementia, vision loss, stroke, heart failure, heart attack, atrial fibrillation and kidney failure. In men, it can cause erectile dysfunction.

Uncontrolled blood pressure also is a risk for COVID-19, as studies have shown it can lead to worse outcomes. 

“It’s a timely message,” Stevens said. “Whatever is on your radar, let that motivate you to take ownership of your blood pressure.”

So what can you do?

— Nutrition is key. 

“Food is medicine,” Stevens said. “Care about food. In our country, we are eating what we want, not what our bodies need.”

— Stay active.

— Maintain your ideal body weight.

— Don’t smoke.

— Limit alcohol.

— Avoid prolonged sitting.

“Those things can reduce one’s risk by 95% of having a heart attack or stroke,” Stevens said.

On top of that, have your blood sugar and cholesterol checked at least once a year.

“All of that combined can reduce risk to less than 1%,” she said.

Some of the things that can trigger high blood pressure include sleep apnea, alcohol, some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen, and supplements.

Women who experienced high blood pressure during pregnancy are at a higher risk of problems later, as are women who take hormone therapy including birth control or post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy.

Stress can also increase blood pressure.

TO LEARN MORE, visit the American Heart Association website at heart.org

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