High blood pressure a nationwide concernThe Minnesota Department of Health announced this month that one-fourth of all Minnesotans have high blood pressure, something that local doctors are very familiar with.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
The Minnesota Department of Health announced this month that one-fourth of all Minnesotans have high blood pressure, something that local doctors are very familiar with.
“High blood pressure, or hypertension, is such a common problem that we see it all the time,” said Jack Alexander, chief medical officer for Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing. “We look at it as a risk factor for longer term problems, which ultimately we’re trying to prevent.”
High blood pressure is such a big concern because it’s a major contributor to heart disease and stroke — the two leading causes of death in the state.
The suggested optimal numbers for normal blood pressure are 120 mmHg for systolic blood pressure and 80 mmHg for diastolic. When levels start to reach 140 and 90, respectively, a person is diagnosed with high blood pressure.
It’s a problem facing one in three adults across the country, totaling almost 68 million people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
Minnesotans are faring slightly better, with only one in four having high blood pressure. Still, high blood pressure remains a concern, health officials said, adding that it’s always something to keep an eye on.
“Though we’re doing better than national averages in terms of preventing high blood pressure and treating it, we are really encouraging people to ‘know their numbers’ and seek treatment in order to avoid a disabling stroke, heart attack, or even death,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said.
By monitoring blood pressure closely, people with prehypertension — numbers ranging from 120 to 139 and 80 to 89 — can make lifestyle changes that will keep them from moving into the range of high blood pressure.
The problem is that the people who are most at risk aren’t always aware.
“Unfortunately, people can be walking around with high blood pressure and not know it,” Alexander said. “The only way you know for sure is getting your blood pressure checked.”
Blood pressure screenings are regularly organized at area businesses, or patients can come to the Mayo Clinic for checks. Once they know whether they suffer from high blood pressure, there are plenty of steps they can take to control it.
First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends maintaining a healthy weight, which can be done through eating a healthy diet. Foods to be avoided include those that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. A good rule of thumb is to avoid processed foods and choose nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables instead.
In conjunction with a nutritious diet, Alexander said physical activity is a great way to help lower blood pressure levels.
“Your blood pressure normally goes up during exercise, but within about five minutes after exercise it often drops 10 points or more,” he explained. “That actually sustains itself for a while, so exercise is a good thing to do.”
Additionally, those who smoke are instructed to quit and those who drink are advised to limit their alcohol intake.
“Approaching those lifestyle modifications is important,” Alexander added.
To help people pick up these positive habits and combat high blood pressure, the Minnesota Department of Health is promoting changes in communities that will help them work toward healthy living. These include adding walking and biking paths, opening farmers markets and putting smoking restrictions in place.
The state health commissioner recently visited Goodhue County and spoke with local health officials. He pointed out that one of the best ways to improve the health of Minnesotans is by stopping problems before they start.
“We need to put a lot more into prevention,” Ehlinger said.