An interview with Elizabeth G. Nabel
Why should Americans be concerned about high blood pressure?
Hypertension—or high blood pressure—is a serious public health problem affecting one in three Americans. Known as the "silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms, with high blood pressure, the heart works harder, your arteries take a beating and your chances of a stroke, heart attack and kidney problems are greater. Because it affects circulation, high blood pressure also creates a higher risk for mental deterioration and Alzheimer's. Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime but the good news is that it can be treated and controlled by keeping a healthy weight, exercising regularly, following a healthy eating plan, reducing intake of salt and sodium, and consuming alcohol in moderation if you drink.
I have heard about the DASH Eating Plan to help control hypertension. What is it?
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH Eating Plan is a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish and poultry, which studies sponsored by the NHLBI have shown can achieve large reductions in blood pressure. For those who also reduce salt and sodium consumption, the decrease in blood pressure has been shown to be even more significant. The DASH Eating Plan promotes a diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat, as well as lowered intake of red meat, sweets and sugar-containing beverages. You can find and print out the DASH Eating Plan on the NHLBI Web site at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/.
Where do we stand in the fight against hypertension?
High blood pressure causes more visits to doctors than any other condition and, along with its complications, costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually. Just a 10 percent decline in the number of doctor visits would save $478 million each year. Data from clinical trials indicate that controlling hypertension with medicines can produce a 55 percent reduction in heart failure, a 37 percent reduction in strokes and a 27 percent reduction in heart attacks.
What is the long-range prognosis for controlling high blood pressure?
Controlling high blood pressure is doable, which is especially important news for the nearly 60 million Americans who are over the age of 55 and face a 90 percent likelihood of developing high blood pressure in their lifetimes. They should have their blood pressures measured and follow their doctors' advice and faithfully do the things that can make a healthy difference: lose weight; eat "heart healthy" diets low in fat, cholesterol, sodium and salt; and spend 30 minutes each day walking or doing some other form of physical activity.