I’ve Just Been Diagnosed With High Blood Pressure: Now What?

It’s called “silent killer.” But you can beat it — if you’re smart.
I’ve Just Been Diagnosed With High Blood Pressure: Now What?

About a week after your routine physical, you get a call from your physician. He says all systems are go and keep up with the weight-loss efforts, but there’s just one problem: You have high blood pressure. You immediately wonder if this means you’re going to keel over from a stroke or heart attack, and you envision being on medication for the rest of your life.

But then, doc tells you not to panic. You take a giant sigh of relief, but you want answers. You never had high blood pressure before and naturally, you’re worried because you’ve heard that hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is known as “the silent killer.” Now what?

“First of all, don’t panic,” says Dr. Jeffrey Quartner, chief of cardiology at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. “Just take control of your life and put the pieces back where they belong, and it will pay dividends.”

High blood pressure is defined as having a systolic pressure of 140 and above. The systolic pressure is the top number in your blood pressure reading. For example, a B.P. of 140/90 would be considered high. More than one-third of all men over age 45 have high blood pressure.

5 Tips to Beat H.B.P.

Here are the top five things you can to treat hypertension, according to Dr. Ann Kulze, MD, a wellness expert and author of the Eat Right For Life book series:

  1. Lose Weight, especially belly fat. Many doctors believe this visceral fat puts pressure on the kidneys and liver, increasing the production of LDL (bad) cholesterol, which leads to high blood pressure.
  2. Exercise. It helps in so many different ways, including an anti-inflammatory effect and improved function of cells in your arteries. You need 5 hours a week of moderate exercise or 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise. This goes for both men and women as both the treatment and general prevention of high blood pressure.
  3. Avoid prolonged sitting. Straight up exercising along isn’t necessarily enough. When you sit for prolonged periods of time, your muscles remain unengaged. Limit sedentary time to less than 3 hours a day. And if you are unable to, break up the periods of sitting with light activity such as walking to the water fountain, stretching, etc.
  4. Eat healthy. Fruits and Vegetables are naturally high in potassium can help counteract the negative effects of sodium on high blood pressure and encourage weight loss. Eating low-fat dairy and substituting whole grains for white starches also helps.
  5. Limit sugar, especially fructose. Make high quality dark chocolate your dessert of choice. Studies have shown that chocolate with levels of cacao over 60% can have beneficial effects on blood pressure. Use moderation! About 1-3 squares a day is a good amount.

Remember: You’re in control
Dr. Quartner says the first, most crucial step in preventing and treating hypertension is to lose weight, especially belly fat. Most doctors agree that committing yourself to a weight-loss program is the single best treatment for hypertension—even better than medication. The second prescription would be for cardiovascular exercise and the final recommendation would be to avoid smoking if applicable.

For every pound you lose, you get a reduction of about 1 point of systolic blood pressure. While this is just a guideline, it may help you set reasonable goals for your weight loss and blood pressure. “Every point counts,” says Dr. John White, codirector of the hypertension clinic at Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia. “It’s probably the single biggest thing you can do to ensure your long-term health."

That’s it. In the overall scheme of things, these changes are easy and certainly beat the alternative according to those in the medical community. Above all, doctors say the most important fact men should know is that the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure are identical.

“I would give the same exact lecture about losing weight and eating right to a patient looking to prevent the onset of hypertension that I would a patient who comes to me looking to treat it,” says Kulz.

Prevention is key
Because the prevention and the cure are one and the same and quite easy to achieve, doctors say there is a level of frustration among those in the medical field over the fact that far too many men allow themselves to continue behaviors that put them at risk. And, they say, hypertension is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“If you connect the dots,” says Quartner. “High blood pressure leads to adult onset diabetes, stroke, heart attack, aneurysms and so many other silent killers.” He says that medical data from the past 25 years indicates that high blood pressure has reached alarming levels.
Dr. John White is an associate professor of Medicine for Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta, GA and is co-director of its hypertension clinic. “If men would simply make a few changes to their diet and exercise and avoid smoking, about 90 percent of high-blood-pressure-related issues could be avoided, says Dr. White. That means we could significantly lower [the number of deaths] from the single greatest killer of men in this country.”

Dr. White suggests cutting down on how often you eat out because of the high levels of sodium in fast and processed food. He suggests reading food labels, to limit sodium intake and increase potassium consumption. Also, he recommends keeping a food journal.

Treating hypertension with medication
Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor will undoubtedly suggest lifestyle changes. However, depending on the severity of the condition, medication may be required. Any systolic reading above 120 could require meds, but a reading of 180 or above requires immediate emergency treatment.

“There are two parts that the doctor has to address,” says Dr. Quartner. “Bringing the blood pressure to an acceptable level, and introducing a new lifestyle as it applies to the patient’s cardiovascular health.”

Dr. Quartner says that for patients who require medication to normalize their blood pressure, there is a “carrot and whip” approach. “If you do what you’re supposed to do, your high blood pressure will eventually normalize, allowing you to get off the medication. That’s certainly a carrot because guys don’t like being medicated if they don’t need to be.”

And the whip? “Well, the whip is that if you don’t do this, you’re really putting your life in jeopardy. This leads you to higher risk heart attack stroke and congestive heart failure.”
Most hypertension medications are safe and have few side effects, but finding the right medication may take a couple of tries. However, side effects are usually slight and include fatigue, sleepiness and dizziness.

Follow through — and follow up
While exercise is a critical element of treating high blood pressure, it’s got to be exercise that works the heart. The basic guidelines for exercise to treat HBP are five hours per week of moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk, or two and a half hours of vigorous exercise per week, such as cycling, running, or using elliptical machines. Note: Weight-lifting is not a cardiovascular exercise.

If you have made the lifestyle changes and don’t see significant improvement within six months, then it’s time to see a specialist. There may be a secondary cause for your high blood pressure. Those causes can include chronic kidney disease or adrenal gland issues that require immediate attention.

When you get your blood pressure under control, follow up with the doctor every six months to make sure the condition has stabilized. Remember, just because your blood pressure normalizes doesn’t mean you can quit your healthy lifestyle. Or you could be right back where you started with that phone call from the doctor.

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