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and Self-Reliance of All Montanans.

January 20, 2011

Hypertension: What you don’t know can hurt you

By Dr. Steven Helgerson
State Medical Officer
Department of Public Health and Human Services

Your blood pressure may not be at the top of your New Year’s resolution list for 2011. However, according to heart health experts, it probably should be. Hypertension – or high blood pressure – is often called a ‘silent killer’ because it often doesn't have symptoms and many people don't even know they have it.

Hypertension increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and other serious problems. The risk for heart attacks increases when outside temperatures are low, so now is a critical time to pay attention to your blood pressure.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 28 percent of Montanans have been told that they have hypertension. This is consistent with the national average of about 30 percent. While hypertension cannot be cured, it can be controlled with a combination of medication and smart lifestyle changes.

Healthy eating habits, regular physical activity, and not smoking are all important ways to control high blood pressure. Changing your lifestyle at any age can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as other chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Here are some smart resolutions to keep hypertension away during the winter months:

  • Take your medication and bundle up: While it can be easy to forget your medicine when you’re busy, it’s critical to take any prescribed medications consistently from day to day. It is also important to dress properly for cold temperatures, since wintery weather is hard on hearts and blood vessels that are weakened by hypertension.
  • Be smart about eating and activity: During cold weather, some people tend to get less activity than usual – and to eat more when stuck indoors. Be heart smart by getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day and enjoying fruits and vegetables for snacks. A brisk walk around the mall is a great way to combine shopping with the activity you need.
  • Get medical help as soon as possible: Some folks put off medical treatment because they are worried about wintery driving conditions. Keep any regularly scheduled medical appointments and seek emergency help when needed. If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, call 911 immediately.

To reduce your risk of hypertension, follow these lifestyle changes:

  • If you smoke or use smokeless tobacco products, quit. For assistance, call the Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Brisk walking is a wonderfully easy activity that most adults can enjoy daily.
  • Enjoy a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan. This delicious way of eating is rich in fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy products with reduced total and saturated fat.
  • Choose foods that are lower in sodium and reduce the use of the salt shaker.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, have only a moderate amount — one drink a day for women; two drinks a day for men.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

Recent DPHHS surveys revealed these interesting facts about the hypertension burden in Montana.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data for Montana shows:

  • In 2009, 27.7 percent of Montana adults responding to the BRFSS telephone survey said they had ever been told they had high blood pressure. 
  • The prevalence of hypertension was higher among those respondents who had any cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those without any CVD for both White and American Indians.
  • As expected, hypertension prevalence increases with age and as Body Mass Index increases.

In addition, the 2010 Baseline Hypertension Telephone Survey of Montanans aged 45+ reveals:

  • Of this sample, 866 had hypertension and 1,234 respondents reported no hypertension.
  • 63 percent of those with hypertension also reported being told they had high cholesterol levels. The prevalence of diabetes was three times higher among those with hypertension than those without (22% vs. 7%).
  • Of those with hypertension, 66 percent said they were very well controlled, while 22 percent said they were somewhat controlled.
  • Of those with hypertension, 70 percent said their provider advised them to reduce their salt/sodium intake, 75 percent said they were cutting down on salt, and 58 percent used lower-sodium canned/packaged foods.

For more information, go to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/hbp/intro.htm

Page last updated: 07/30/2013