May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, and becoming better informed about high blood pressure can help Arkansans lead healthier lives, says Teresa Henson, Extension specialist II – nutrition outreach coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s 1890 Cooperative Extension Program.

“High blood pressure is also known as hypertension,” she said. “Informally the condition has also been referred to as ‘the silent killer’ because of the lack of symptoms or warning signs exhibited in those with the condition until serious complications occur.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high blood pressure affects about 75 million American adults, or one in every three adults. About one in five adults have high blood pressure and do not know it or will not report having it.

Henson said blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to other organs in the body. When a person’s blood pressure is too high, the walls of the arteries are overstretched, which can cause a tear. The tear in the arteries can leave fat deposits, causing the blood vessels to become hard and narrow, which can possibly lead to a heart attack or stroke.

“It’s very important to get your blood pressure checked regularly – the process is quick and painless,” she said. “Simply have a doctor or other health care professional measure your blood pressure.”

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers, according to the CDC. The first number – systolic blood pressure – represents the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats. The second number – diastolic blood pressure – represents the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart rests between beats. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

According to the CDC, a blood pressure less than 120/80 mmHg is normal; a blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or more is too high; and a blood pressure between 120/80 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg indicates a condition called prehypertension, which means a person is at high risk for high blood pressure.

“If your blood pressure happens to be too high, consult with your physician about appropriate treatment options,” Henson said.

There are several steps Arkansans can take in their everyday lives to lower the risk of having high blood pressure, she said. According to the American Heart Association, individuals should:

• Stay physically active through yoga, strength-training or vigorous walking.

• Refrain from smoking.

• Reduce sodium intake.

• Eat more bananas, as potassium helps counter the impact of sodium.

• Limit caffeine intake and drink plenty of water.

• Eat a diet that includes protein, high-fiber foods and fruits and vegetables.

• Consider taking heart supplements such as Vitamin D and omega-3 fish oil.

“By taking some basic steps to prevent high blood pressure and regularly checking in with a primary care physician, Arkansans can help keep their blood pressure under control,” Henson said.

More information on blood pressure is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association.