Are you the 1 in 5? High blood pressure in young adults a serious concern

Get your blood pressure checked regularlyHow many young adults are at risk for heart attack and stroke because of high blood pressure? One in five, or 19 percent, according to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that looked at more than 14,000 men and women between 24 and 32 years of age.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common problem in which the pressure of blood flow is chronically elevated. It is a “silent killer,” meaning you can have high blood pressure for years without any symptoms. If left unmonitored, hypertension can put you at risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and other serious conditions later in life. If caught in time, however, this condition can be controlled with a balanced diet, exercise and/or drug therapy.

What should I do?

In addition to getting regular check-ups with your health care provider, following are some easy tips to help keep your blood pressure in check.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables.
  2. Limit sodium (salt) intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. This is much less than you might think, so read those nutrition labels!
  3. Limit daily alcohol consumption — two drinks for men and one drink for women.
  4. Limit caffeine intake.
  5. Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
  6. Cook meals from scratch, so you know exactly what you’re eating.
  7. Choose no-sodium or low-sodium packaged foods.
  8. Substitute spices, herbs and salt-free blends for salt.
  9. Avoid instant foods such as pasta, rice and cereal
  10. Rinse canned goods to wash off some of the salt.
  11. Exercise regularly! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate to rigorous activity every day.

What factors put me at risk?

Things you cannot control:

  • Age: The risk of high blood pressure increases with age.
  • Genetics: Some families carry a higher risk of hypertension.
  • Race: Hypertension is particularly common in African Americans, often developing at an earlier age. Complications such as heart attack, stroke and kidney disease are also more common.

Things you CAN control:

  • Obesity: The fat related to obesity produces stress hormones, which can elevate blood pressure.
  • Stress: Stress can lead to a short and dramatic increase in blood pressure.
  • Tobacco: Smoking and chewing tobacco raise your blood pressure immediately and can damage the lining of your artery walls. Smoking damages blood vessels and hardens arteries, causing them to narrow and your heart to increase blood pressure.
  • Drugs: Young adults who use drugs that cause vasoconstriction, a narrowing of the blood vessels, often suffer from high blood pressure. Cocaine is the most common drug that causes high blood pressure, but some legal medications such as steroids, cold-relief medicines and birth control pills also can cause hypertension.

Information provided by Sheryl Heinicka, ARNP, SHCC