Healing High Blood Pressure
Mark C. Houston, M.D., director of the Hypertension Institute at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville, says that your single biggest risk factor is your family history. “High blood pressure is genetic in 90% of cases,” Houston says. “If one or both of your parents have high blood pressure, the risk of you having high blood pressure is between 50-80%." If you know you're at risk for developing hypertension, Houston emphasizes that it's important to get your blood pressure checked at least twice a year by a medical professional.
Aside from heredity, your lifestyle is another typical cause of hypertension. When Richelle Williams* was diagnosed with hypertension, the 55-year-old housewife from Houston was shocked. “It was stressful,” Richelle says of her diagnosis. “I don’t have any history of it in my family that I’m aware of.” Richelle realized she needed to tackle her condition head-on with her doctor's help and some significant lifestyle changes.
Your Blood Pressure-Friendly Lifestyle
Depending on the severity of your hypertension, your doctor may prescribe any number of drug treatments. Most often, they will start with diuretics to rid the body of salt and excess water. Your doctor may also try a beta-blocker, which essentially slows your heart rate. If your condition is more severe, you doctor may talk about trying ACE inhibitors or calcium antagonists—different classes of drugs designed to bring your blood pressure down.
But who wants to be on high blood pressure drugs their whole lives? Quite often the best treatment for high blood pressure comes from making significant lifestyle changes that focus on living healthier and exercising more.
These lifestyle changes start with your diet. Thomas Moore, M.D., of Boston University Medical Center, is a pioneer in advocating the DASH diet, which stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension.” The diet has been endorsed by the American Heart Association and consists of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products, healthy dairy and lean proteins, as well as an increase in activity levels. It also suggests lowering sodium intake and limiting the amount of alcohol you consume.
“It’s really easy to use the DASH diet because it’s so easy to understand,” says Moore. “DASH teaches people to eat according to food groups and numbers of servings needed per day. Once you have those things committed to memory, the plan is really easy to follow.”