According to a report released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of U.S. adults have either high blood pressure or unhealthy cholesterol levels.
"High blood pressure and high cholesterol are two major risk factors for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases," explained Family Practice physician Dean Economous, M.D. "These diseases kill more than 800,000 Americans each year, which is more than any other medical condition. Cardiovascular disease costs our nation an estimated $300 billion each year in direct medical costs and those costs are increasing rapidly. Treatment for this disease accounts for one out of every six health dollars spent."
The CDC's February 1, 2011 Vital Signs report also noted that people with the lowest control rates of blood pressure and cholesterol levels had no health insurance, no usual source of medical care, had received health care services less than twice in the last year, or had income below the poverty level. Rates of control also were low among young adults and Mexican Americans.
"It's important for people to understand the healthy ranges for cholesterol levels and blood pressure," Dr. Economous added. "Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body and in many foods. Your body needs cholesterol to function normally and makes all that you need. Too much cholesterol can build up in your arteries, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
"LDL cholesterol, called bad cholesterol, should be less than 160mg/dL for people without heart disease or diabetes. For those who don't have heart disease or diabetes, but who have two or more other risk factors for heart disease, it should be less than 130mg/dL. The target is to be below 100 mg/dL if you have heart disease or diabetes.
"Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, called the systolic rate, represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, called the diastolic rate, represents the pressure in your vessels when your heart rests between beats. Blood pressure should be less than 120 systolic over 80 diastolic, and requires treatment if it is higher than 140 over 90."
High Blood Pressure
- 1 in 3 Adults has high blood pressure.
- 1 in 3 Adults with high blood pressure does not get treatment.
- 1 in 2 Adults with high blood pressure does not have it under control.
- 1 in 3 Adults has high cholesterol.
- 1 in 2 Adults with high cholesterol does not get treatment.
- 2 in 3 Adults with high cholesterol do not have it under control.
(Excerpt: CDC Vital Signs-February 1, 2011)
Living a Healthy Lifestyle
"Everyday decisions can help keep a person's heart healthy." Dr. Economous continued. "These include not smoking, eating right, exercising, and taking prescription medicines."
- Eat a healthy diet. Choosing healthful meals can help you avoid heart disease. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber. Limiting salt or sodium in your diet can also lower blood pressure, since people get 77 percent of their sodium from eating processed or restaurant foods.
- Maintain a healthy weight. "Being overweight or obese can also increase a person's risk for heart disease," Dr. Economous advised. "To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, a calculation called the body mass index or BMI is used, which is based on a person's height and weight. Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure a person's excess body fat."
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Don't smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease.
- Limit alcohol use. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which causes high blood pressure.
- Have your cholesterol checked. Talk with your doctor about this simple blood test.
- Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis.
"If you do have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes already, there are some additional steps you can take to lower your risk for heart disease," Dr. Economous concluded.
- Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, closely monitor your blood sugar levels and talk with your doctor about treatment options.
- Take your medicine. If you're taking medication to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, follow your doctor's instructions carefully.
Dean Economous, M.D., is a board certified Family Practice physician, who serves as the medical director for Salem Community Hospital's Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Department. He is affiliated with the Family Practice Center of Salem, Inc., located at 2370 Southeast Boulevard in Salem, 330-332-9961.