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  • Feb 13, 2018

Barbara Rutkowski, EdD, MSN, CCM - Vice President, Clinical Operations, Advanced Plan for Health  & Joy McGee-Cory - Senior Vice President, Advanced Plan for Health

The team at Advanced Plan for Health (APH) is passionate about improving the health and well-being of as many healthcare consumers as possible, so in honor of Heart Health Month, we created the Consumer Guide to High Blood Pressure below for you to use to share details on the risk of hypertension and some preventative measures with your member, employee and patient populations. We encourage you to share any of this information as you find appropriate.


Heart Health Month – February 2018
Consumer Guide to High Blood Pressure

How is High Blood Pressure Defined?

Hypertension (also known as High Blood pressure) is defined as the force of blood against artery walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and recorded as two numbers — systolic pressure (when the heart beats) over diastolic pressure (when the heart relaxes between beats). Both numbers are important. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. When it stays elevated over time, then it's diagnosed as high blood pressure.

How Risky is High Blood Pressure?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta:

  • Hypertension contributes to 1,100 deaths per day just in America.

  • Those with high blood pressure are 3 times more likely to die from heart disease and 4 times more likely to die of a stroke.

  • Only about half of those with hypertension have their blood pressure under control.

  • 69% of those having a first heart attack also have high blood pressure.

  • 77% of those having their first stroke also have high blood pressure.

  • 74% of those with chronic heart failure have high blood pressure.

Lowering blood pressure even by a little has a positive impact on reducing strokes, coronary heart disease and death. The good news is there is a lot you can do to contribute to lowering your blood pressure.

How to Get an Accurate Blood Pressure Reading

Accurate readings are important.  Those with hypertension need to take their blood pressures regularly, following recommended steps that make the reading accurate. 

Avoid caffeine, stimulating drugs, smoking and exercise for at least 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure reading. Be sure to take your blood pressure at least twice at different times after you have had the chance to relax for 5 minutes. You should be sitting in a chair with back support, feet flat on the floor and your arm should be supported.  It is important to use the proper blood pressure cuff size and to verify high readings with a health care provider, who can do more testing prior to making a diagnosis.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help in selecting the best blood pressure apparatus for home readings, and also don’t hesitate to ask questions about measuring your blood pressure correctly. These are questions that health care providers are glad to answer for you, and they are not things you are expected to know on your own.

The Importance of Knowing Your Risk Factors

There are many modifiable lifestyle changes that can positively affect blood pressure, including making sure you take your blood pressure medication according to the instructions on your bottle, getting regular checkups and working closely with your physician if you have hypertension. 

Cultural practices and traditions can affect your choice of how you live and what you eat, but some of these can be modified to be healthier.  Drinking alcohol needs to be limited and tobacco use needs to be stopped, if possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with any of these areas, as others have done this successfully before, and there are tools available to help you as well.

Know that you’re not alone in this. Because of the American lifestyle – with the increased number of individuals who are overweight, the lack of exercise and poor dietary habits, as many as half of all adults may fall into a category of unhealthy blood pressure levels that are uncontrolled.

How Can You Control Your Blood Pressure?

You need to know your blood pressure numbers – every day. Take and record your blood pressure at different times, and especially when you are stressed or upset, to see how it changes.

Even if you do not have high blood pressure, a healthy lifestyle can help prevent it. To keep your blood pressure at normal levels, it helps to: 

  • Strive for, and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Try to exercise actively for at least 30 minutes per day.

  • Follow a healthy eating plan, and reduce your sodium intake (more specific tips on this are below).

  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation.

  • See your health care provider at least annually, and more often if needed.

  • Have your cholesterol checked at least annually by your health care provider. They may also run additional blood tests to check for kidney function.

  • Take your high blood pressure medication, as prescribed, even if you cannot feel a difference or don’t feel that your blood pressure is high. This is very, very important.

  • Know the side effects of your medications, and how they work. Let your doctor know if you have questions or concerns.

  • Keep a log of your blood pressures, and take that to your appointments with your health care provider or case manager to let them know how your treatment plan is working.

  • Eating Out?

Ask your server to prepare your food without salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in many foods and has very high sodium content.

Substitute salty food with fruits and vegetables.

Order your dressing and condiments on the side. 

Reduce calories by putting half the meal in a take-home box, and then enjoy the rest another time.

Tips For Reducing “Hidden” Salt and Sodium in Common Foods

Most people probably aren't even aware of just how much sodium is in their diet. One teaspoon of salt has a little over 2,300 milligrams (mg.) of sodium, the maximum daily amount of sodium adults should consume.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you're age 51 or older, African American, hypertensive, diabetic, or if you have chronic kidney disease. Do not eat less than 1,500 mg. per day, unless you consult your physician.

Many adults consume more than 3,100 milligrams daily, and that is because we eat so many convenience foods, and add sauces, condiments, pickles and other highly processed foods to our diet.

A way to understand your sodium intake better is to start looking at the labels to see how much sodium you consume in the things you’re eating and drinking. This can help you to choose low salt options.

Another thing you can do is rinse canned tuna, canned beans and canned vegetables that are salty (or buy no-salt added ones), and lose the salt shaker! Try some new ideas, like spices and herbs that are flavorful and low in sodium. You’ll be surprised at how little you miss the extra salt when you use these substitutes!

Here are a few more tips to reduce your sodium intake: 

Limit frozen processed foods, canned / packaged dinners, and pasta dishes that are high in sodium. Examples are – frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, tomato products, soups, cheese, deli and breakfast meat.

Read the labels on bread, bagels and English muffins and pick low sodium varieties.

Limit cured foods like bacon and ham.

Avoid foods packed in brine (salt water) such as pickles, olives, sauerkraut.

Condiments contain high levels of sodium – use these sparingly! Examples include mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, horseradish sauce and salad dressings.

Don’t add salt to cooking water for rice, pasta, potatoes and cereals.

Break your salt habit gradually. Start by cutting your salty spices in half when you cook. Add flavor with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends.

Did you know that processed foods contribute about 75 percent of the sodium you eat daily? When you start to make more food from scratch — you will save money, and reduce your sodium! By reading the references at the end of this article, you will get lots of ideas for healthier eating habits and a healthier you.


Resources to Learn More:

American Heart Association — Visit this dedicated Website for what you need to know about hypertension: www.Heart.org.  

The Centers for Disease Control Prevention: www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm has a lot more detail about hypertension, the risks, and how to manage it.

Read “How to Tame Your Salt Habit Now” from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/sodium/art-20045479


Advanced Plan for Health is Here to Help Our Business Customers and Their Populations

We hope you find these tips helpful in improving the health within your populations. Hypertension is such an important controllable health risk and high cost area for so many, that we felt it was important to compile this information to be shared more broadly.

Please feel free to contact APH today to learn more about how our Poindexter advanced and predictive analytics platform and team of experts can help resolve your needs in this, and other high cost / high risk areas of care.