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High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. African Americans are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure than other Americans. When the heart beats it pumps blood through the body. When the heart pumps, the blood pressure goes up. When the heart relaxes, the blood pressure goes down. A blood pressure cuff measures both. The high number is the systolic pressure. The low number is the diastolic pressure. A normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. If the blood pressure is higher than that the chance of heart disease or stroke goes up. If the pressure is slightly high doctors recommend diet and exercise. If it does not get better or goes even higher medications are started. If the blood pressure was above 140/90 mmHg it was considered to be very high or hypertension. The American Heart Association has recently recommended doctors to lower the blood pressure level for hypertension to 130/80 mmHg. This is because several recent studies have found lowering blood pressure to below 130/80 mmHg can save more lives. The American Heart Association guidelines focus on the top number, the systolic pressure. If your systolic pressure is higher than 140 mmHg, here are new recommendations from the experts. 

Doctors should not jump to conclusions. If your blood pressure is only high one time it may not be hypertension. Checking your blood pressure at home can help your doctor know what your blood pressure is like most of the time. 

Doctors should not rush to medications. Unless the pressure is dangerously high doctors should start with weight control, exercise, and cutting salt out of the diet. Use lemon and pepper instead. 

Make treating your high blood pressure a team game. Work with your doctor as a team to get to your blood pressure goal, improve health, and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Your doctor may recommend active exercise for 50 to 150 minutes each week such as brisk walking, running, swimming, or cycling. He or she will suggest you eat more vegetables and less salt. Men with high blood pressure should have two or fewer drinks per day, and women no more than one. If doing all is too much start with one at a time. If you are overweight 

The time to start is now. Now is the time to make lifestyle changes. It may prevent the need for medications if you are not on them. If you are on medications you may be able to take less or even stop. 

Don’t create a crisis. Your doctor can watch you carefully but if the treatment plan is not working and the blood pressure is staying high medication will be needed. Or will need to be increased. Doctors do not want to wait until the systolic number reaches 150 mmHg or higher. And if you have diabetes or heart disease or kidney disease they usually cannot wait for it to reach 140 mmHg or higher. 

Don’t be afraid to see your doctor. You made need to see your doctor as much as once a month if your blood pressure is in the process of being controlled. Once your blood pressure is controlled every four to six months is fine for most people. 

These are some general recommendations for blood pressure control. Each person is different. Meet with your medical team to make your game plan. Making sure your blood pressure is in the normal range is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Learning to take your blood pressure at home and bringing in your numbers when you go to the doctor is very helpful. It is your blood pressure and your body. Be the captain of your team. 

In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I can walk to freedom, but only if I have a healthy body.”