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 Annual 2008

Annual 2008


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Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle

    Essential hypertension, or chronically high blood pressure with no identifiable cause, is a “silent” condition that affects many people without them even knowing it. The only way to diagnose hypertension is by getting a blood-pressure reading.
    As blood is pumped through your body, it exerts two kinds of pressure on the walls of your arteries. The systolic blood pressure is the pressure against these walls when the heart contracts, and the diastolic blood pressure is the pressure against these walls when the heart relaxes. A blood-pressure reading detects the systolic pressure “over” the diastolic pressure.
    Hypertension is defined as a repeatedly elevated blood pressure exceeding 140 over 90, which translates as a systolic pressure above 140 with a diastolic pressure above 90.
    Although chronic hypertension can easily go unnoticed, it carries serious ramifications. It can cause blood vessel changes in the back of the eye (along the retina), abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, kidney failure and brain damage. Although African Americans of both sexes and Caucasian males have a higher rate of significant hypertension, it has become increasingly more common for others—Caucasian females and teenagers—to see a consistent rise in their blood pressure numbers.
    For many women, like Suzanne Whyte, 40, who lives in Alameda, a hypertension diagnosis comes with an enormous life change.
    “Mine started with my pregnancy,” she says. “I was diagnosed with preeclampsia, which is a pregnancy-induced hypertension. It usually clears up with delivery of the baby, but it didn’t clear up for me.” Whyte’s doctor prescribed a low dosage of blood pressure medication, exercise and weight management through a healthy, low-salt diet.
    She is aware that there is a genetic component to hypertension. “I know the tendency runs in families, and in my family, my mom and her sister have it, and now I have it, she said.”
    Whyte’s mother, Mavis McGaugh, was diagnosed with hypertension at age 45. “I knew that it was potentially in my future, because all the men in my father’s family had blood-pressure issues and have had early strokes and heart attacks, but I wasn’t thinking about it at that point.”
    Today, at 62, McGaugh treats her hypertension with medication and stays active through contra dancing, and she uses the stairs of her building at work rather than taking the elevator.
    Both mother and daughter seek medical attention at Alameda Family Physicians. Dr. John Carper, a family physician there, says that despite the genetic component, the outlook for patients diagnosed with hypertension is not bleak.
    “With certain lifestyle changes, we see some improvement and can even prevent it,” Carper says.
    His advice? Increase exercise and cut back on salt intake. Salt raises blood pressure, it helps to hold more fluid in the system and decreases the tone of the blood vessels. He also advocates the DASH diet to his patients.
    The DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, eating plan, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, works to lower blood pressure. The DASH diet involves eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables as well as low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
    Carper recommends that his patients, once they have been checked into the medical office, buy a home blood-pressure monitor, available in most drug stores.
    “With a push of a button, people can check it at home and get a whole series of numbers. They can monitor themselves to see how it varies, what causes it to go higher or lower,” he notes.

Closer to Home

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center Ethnic Health Institute, www.altabates.com/ehi/ehihypertension.html, (510) 204-4444

Alameda Contra Costa Medical Association, www.accma.org, (510) 654-5383

Sinkler-Miller Medical Association, an association of 150 African-American physicians in the East Bay, www.sinklermiller.org, (510) 763-2702

Preeclampsia Foundation, www.preeclampsia.org, (800) 665-9341

September:  East Bay Heart Walk, Oakland and Danville, sponsored by the American Heart Association.

General Resources

The DASH Diet for Hypertension by Thomas Moore and Mark Jenkins

Essential Guide to Hypertension: American Medical Association (The American Medical Association Essential Guides Series) by Angela R. Perry

Overcoming Hypertension: Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper’s Preventive Medicine Program by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D.

Good News About High Blood Pressure: Everything You Need to Know to Take Control of Hypertension—And Your Life by Thomas Pickering

Health Agencies and Web Sites
American Heart Association, www.americanheart.org, (800) 242-8721

American Society of Hypertension, www.ash-us.org, California chapter, (559) 228-5325

National Institutes of Health, www.nih.gov, (301) 496-4000

Project AWARE, www.project-aware.org. This site disseminates comprehensive health information on perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause.

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