Is it possible to reverse hypertension?
Here’s the bad news: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all U.S. adults have hypertension, a condition in which your blood pressure is consistently elevated.
What’s the good news? Making healthy lifestyle changes can help you avoid or reverse high blood pressure.
“Healthy diet, adequate exercise and sleep all play a key role in maintaining healthy blood pressure,” says Marjorie Willett, nurse practitioner at Aurora Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn, Wis.
But before you can tell if your lifestyle modifications are paying off, you must first understand your readings:
- Normal blood pressure: Less than 120/80.
- Elevated blood pressure: Readings consistently run 120-129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic.
- Hypertension stage 1: Blood pressure consistently runs 130-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic.
- Hypertension stage 2: Blood pressure consistently runs 140/90 or higher.
- Hypertensive crisis: Blood pressure readings exceed 180/120 and you have symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, nausea/vomiting or dizziness. If this occurs, seek medical attention immediately.
Willett coaches her patients to make healthy lifestyle changes as the first step to bringing elevated blood pressure or hypertension back to normal.
“I’ve had many patients who were able to control their blood pressure with lifestyle changes alone, with some patients reducing or discontinuing their antihypertensive medications,” she says.
Here are a few small changes that can have a big impact, according to Willett:
1. Weight loss of 20-25 pounds can lower systolic blood pressure by 5-20 points. Goal is to maintain a normal BMI of 18.5-25.
2. Following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy and reduced in fat can lower systolic blood pressure by 8-14 points.
3. Restricting daily sodium intake to less than 2000 mg daily can lower systolic blood pressure by 2-8 points.
4. Engaging in aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes five days per week can lower systolic blood pressure by 4-10 points.
5. Limiting alcohol to two drinks/day for men and one drink/day for women can lower systolic blood pressure by 2-4 points.
Willett says your likelihood of developing hypertension is also affected by your age, sex, race and ethnicity. You are more likely to have hypertension if you are Black, male and/or over 55 years old.
“Unfortunately, if high blood pressure is left undetected or uncontrolled, over time it can lead to a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, peripheral arterial disease, vision loss and/or sexual dysfunction,” Willett says. “The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked frequently, especially if any of the risk factors apply to you.”
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About the Author
Annette Guye-Kordus is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health.