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Why Do We Have a National Epidemic of High Blood Pressure?

May 14, 2019
Published in: Fitness, Nutrition, Screening

Man getting his blood pressure checked at a Heart Health Fair

About 1 out of 3 US adults – around 75 million people – have high blood pressure. Only about another half of those people have the condition under control. More and more young people are receiving a diagnosis of high blood pressure. In 2013, high blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death for over 360,000 Americans. These are some sobering facts and part of the reason that the medical journal The Lancet described the condition as “the largest epidemic ever known to mankind.”

In recognition of National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month, we are going to examine some of the reasons why high blood pressure is so prevalent in the United States, and ways you might be able to stay healthy for yourselves.

Risks of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is known as the “silent killer,” as it doesn’t present any symptoms. That means the only way to know for certain whether or not you have high blood pressure is to ask your health professional to measure it for you.

But just because hypertension doesn’t present any debilitating symptoms doesn’t mean that it isn’t incredibly dangerous. It is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, which themselves are the number 1 and number 5 leading causes of death in the United States respectively. Together, they were responsible for the deaths of over 777,000 people. Silent or not, the dangers of high blood pressure are very real.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

Cheeseburger and friesWhat factors are contributing to the prevalence of hypertension? Many factors are related to unhealthy behaviors common in the United States. Smoking, for instance, can lead to having high blood pressure – a habit still practiced by 16 million Americans.

Other factors that contribute to high blood pressure include eating foods that are high in sodium and low in potassium, not getting enough physical activity, obesity, and drinking too much alcohol. Considering that fewer than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical fitness a day, and that the current obesity rate in the United States is around 40%, and one can begin to see a clear pathway as to why high blood pressure is so prevalent in the United States.

The Good News

Couple walking in the park with their dogThe good news about having high blood pressure is that the condition can be managed well and prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting active. It doesn’t take much exercise to lower your blood pressure. Just 40 minutes three or four times a week can make an incredible impact on your overall health – including on your blood pressure.

Similarly, consider making changes in your diet. Reducing your sodium intake by using less salt and eating fewer salty foods can help you take strides toward lowering your blood pressure. Also, try eating foods with more potassium. Avocados and sweet potatoes are a good place to start – it doesn’t just mean eating more bananas.

No matter how much of an epidemic hypertension may be, remember that it is largely under your control. By quitting smoking, getting the recommended levels of exercise, and eating a healthier diet, you can drastically reduce your chances of raising your blood pressure. Be sure to monitor your blood pressure alongside your healthcare professional, and with the right precautions, you can help stem the tide.