Take Charge of Your Health!

By Richard Vienne, D.O.

Thousands of adults in our region are putting their health at risk by failing to do what they can to manage their high blood pressure. According to research by Univera Healthcare, more than 400,000 Western New York adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Amazingly, one third of them report not having made any changes to their diet or level of physical activity to help manage their condition, and one fifth report ignoring a physician’s advice to take blood pressure control medication.

Properly managing high blood pressure can add years to your life and help you avoid costly and crippling health problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease.

Blood pressure measures how hard the blood pushes against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure can damage your blood vessels, which can cause heart and kidney disease. You have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, if your systolic pressure (top number) is 140 or higher or your diastolic pressure (bottom number) is 90 or higher.

The risk of high blood pressure increases with age and is higher in people who have a family history of the condition. Non-Hispanic blacks and women older than age 65 are also prone to high blood pressure.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle can help adults prevent and control high blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle includes maintaining a healthy weight; minimizing dietary salt, fat, and sugar, and getting enough potassium; regularly engaging in aerobic physical activity; moderating alcohol; avoiding tobacco; and following your physician’s advice about blood pressure control medication.

Obesity is the most important predictor of high blood pressure. In Western New York, 37 percent of adults diagnosed with high blood pressure had a body mass index (BMI) that categorized them as obese, and 35 percent had a BMI that categorized them as overweight. Only about one in four adults diagnosed with high blood pressure was at a healthy weight.

For the thousands of Western New York adults with unregulated high blood pressure, the best advice is to see your doctor and then act on their recommendations. It’s as simple as that. Univera’s research found that a health professional’s advice to adopt healthier behaviors is a powerful motivator for patients. About 75 percent of upstate New York adults diagnosed with high blood pressure who reported adopting a healthier diet, for example, said they were advised by a health professional to do so.

Richard Vienne, D.O. is vice president and chief medical officer of Univera Healthcare.