Dr. Deirdre Mattina is a HAP-affiliated cardiologist and director of the Henry Ford Women’s Heart Center, Detroit.
Q: My doctor says I have high blood pressure, but I feel fine. Do I really need to change my lifestyle?
A: Most of the time, high blood pressure doesn’t have symptoms. Our goal with treatment is to prevent the very serious consequences that high blood pressure leads to, such as heart attack, stroke and chronic kidney disease. But too often, people wait until they become ill and then try to fix everything. For true health, we should get control of conditions before they turn into illness.
Q: What can I do to head off high blood pressure?
A: The big ones are eating right and exercising so you can maintain a healthy weight, and quitting if you smoke. One factor many people ignore is lowering salt intake. You don’t have to go to the extreme of limiting yourself to 1.5 grams of sodium per day [about 1¼ teaspoons of salt] but don’t go overboard with the salt shaker. To eat less salt, cook your meals with fresh ingredients and cut back on processed foods and fast food.
Q: I’ve tried dieting and exercising and I never stick with it. How do I make lasting changes?
A: People who are not active sometimes don’t know how to start exercising, and it can be intimidating to join a gym. I encourage my patients to consult a trainer, who can help them begin a specific program, and a registered dietitian, who will set measurable goals for weight loss. Also, I urge them to stay motivated by using a home blood pressure monitor to track their numbers as they get healthier.
Henry Ford patients have access to the Cardiac Rehabilitation program, where you work with a team that provides education and individual goals. The Women’s Heart Center offers lifestyle improvement visits, which are two-hour office visits where we talk about your risk factors and how to reduce them.
Facts about high blood pressure
- Almost one-third of American adults have high blood pressure. In Americans age 60 and over, that number swells to 65 percent.
- Women are at higher risk for high blood pressure after menopause.
- Go to hap.org/bloodpressure for more information.