We’ve all been there: at a doctor’s office, tight band around our arm, a nurse talking in numbers. Confusing, isn’t it? What do those numbers even mean? How high is too high?
Interventional cardiologist Dr. Eric McClendon, who is affiliated with Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, is here to help.
“Most people probably don’t know what normal blood pressure is,” McClendon said. “You want a (blood pressure) where the first number is less than 120 and the second is less than 80. That’s the normal range.”
Blood pressure that creeps over that can be dangerous, especially because there are not necessarily any symptoms to make the condition clear. While elevated blood pressure can cause headaches, mild vision or hearing changes, and sometimes a mild tingling in the hands or fingers, it doesn’t always.
“You can walk around with an elevated blood pressure for years and never know it,” he said. “But all the while it is causing damage to your blood vessels, your heart, your kidneys. Everything. It’s too late when you start to notice symptoms.”
More concerning symptoms can develop, such as severe headaches and chest pain, he said.
“Severe headaches can be a sign that someone is on the verge of having a stroke, or even having a stroke,” he said. “If you go so long and you don’t know, you could have a stroke or a heart attack.”
Kidney damage can result from high blood pressure, he said.
“High blood pressure is one of the main causes of kidney failure,” he said. “People think kidney problems cause back pain, but that’s not really the complete story of how you get kidney problems. You could have no problems with urination or anything, but you go to the doctor and they check your lab work and your kidneys are abnormal.”
McClendon said one easy way to keep blood pressure down is to avoid salt.
“People should limit their salt intake to about two grams per day,” he said. “People may not understand that before they even season food, they already may have the two whole grams for the day. That’s true even of just the meat you take out of the package to cook. It’s already go (sodium) in it.”
Many people are probably getting four grams of salt or more a day, he said.
“That’s especially true of fast food,” he said. “Fast foods and processed foods have an even higher amount. If you get an order of French fries, they’re layered in salt.”
Dietary changes don’t have to be drastic or “perfect,” said Whitney Brown, personal training director at the Fitness Factor.
“Diet monitoring is not as specific as they might think,” she said. “They can make simple habit switches like adding something green, a vegetable here and there, it doesn’t have to be perfect every time. People think they have to be perfect, but it can be very easy to implement.”
A first step could be as simple as taking off one of the buns from your burger, she said.
“Take the top bun off and eat the burger and the fixings and the bottom bun,” she said. “Maybe just eat half of your fries, or don’t add ranch dressing or salt. If you’re really feeling frisky, get a side salad instead of fries.”
Exercise is hugely helpful, she said, and also easier than people probably think.
“Get moving, even if it’s just a little bit,” she said. “A lot of times people think they have to overhaul their exercise, but it can be as simple as taking more steps a day or trying to work in 20 minutes of activity a few times a week. That makes a huge difference especially if they are relatively sedentary.”
Start with a leisure walk, Brown said, and then increase the intensity over time.
“The recommendation is between 7,000 and 10,000 steps on average,” she said. “However, if someone is walking a thousand steps a day now, and if they increase it to 2,000 or 3,000 they will still see a lot of health benefits.”
Strength training is also helpful.
“Just move some weights maybe two times a week,” Brown said. “I would recommend hiring a coach just to get them started on something that would be a very simple, total body lift they can do even at home if they’re not comfortable coming to a gym.”
Exercise and nutrition don’t have to be elaborate as long as they are consistent, she said.
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.