One of the most successful ways to live a long and healthy life is to control your blood pressure.
High blood pressure damages your body’s internal organs and often leads to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and many other problems.
In addition to “National Hospital Week,” May is also “National High Blood Pressure Education Month.”
The medical providers in this community want to take this appropriate time to increase awareness of the issue of high blood pressure and stress the importance of prevention and treatment of this life-threatening condition.
As a practicing nephrologist (a physician who specializes in the kidneys), I am concerned by this common and often-controllable health condition causing suffering and death in our community.
The incidence of heart disease in Harlan County is about 75 percent greater than the national average, much of it due to uncontrolled high blood pressure. Once damaged, organs like the heart and kidneys can never fully recover.
That’s why it’s important to visit your doctor for regular checkups, first to make sure your blood pressure is normal and then, when it’s not, to treat your condition effectively. It is much more effective to prevent the damage caused by high blood pressure than it is to heal it.
Because these problems develop slowly over time and show few if any symptoms, many people don’t realize they have a problem until the diseases become advanced and major damage occurs creating a health crisis.
As a general rule, you should keep your blood pressure below 140 over 80, but always check with your health care provider for your appropriate target.
The hard part when it comes to preventing diseases is that we must often change our behavior so that our body can be protected. Nothing is more difficult than changing what we choose to eat.
Because a high level of sodium in your diet contributes to high blood pressure, it’s necessary to control the amount of salt in your food. A low-sodium diet means you should have no more than two grams (2,000 mg) each day.
Limiting the amount of sodium will help lower blood pressure, preserve your kidneys and avoid leg swelling. It’s important if you have heart, liver or kidney problems to follow such a diet. Many foods, especially processed ones, contain sodium for flavor or as a preservative.
When the amount of sodium in a diet needs to be low, it is important to know what to look for when choosing foods and drinks. It can be easy to follow a low-sodium diet when you learn what to look for.
First of all, eat more fruits and vegetables every day; and the fresher, the better. Don’t add any salt to your food. This can be difficult at the beginning, but you will soon get used to the way food tastes without it.
Watch out for convenience foods — canned food or “fast food” from the usual places. Look for snack foods that are unsalted, and look for “lower sodium” or “no salt added” on the food labels in the store.
While you’re at it, see how much sodium the label says is in one serving of what you are buying. A lot of times, the labels can be tricky, but look closely at the serving size and the amount per serving.
One other thing you could try is when you go out to eat at a restaurant, ask the staff to prepare your food with less salt, or even none.
As always, talk to your doctor about the medicines you take, the food you eat and other ways you might try to lower your blood pressure.
For more information on the effect of high blood pressure, you can contact the National Kidney Foundation, Inc., at 30 East 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016, 1-800-622-9010 or on their website at www.kidney.org.
Another good source of information is the Health Information Center at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, an agency of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, at 301.592.8573 or at their website: www.nhlbi.nih.gov.