Blood pressure and cholesterol. Two words you often hear in relation to your health, but what do they mean? And how can you lower these numbers in order to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke?
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure refers to the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels. When you get a blood pressure reading, you will have two numbers. The top number, systolic pressure, is the force when blood pumps out of the heart and into your arteries. The bottom number, diastolic pressure, is created as the heart rests between heart beats. When one of these numbers is consistently too high, you will be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
What is high blood pressure?
In November 2017, the American Heart Association updated guidelines which define normal and high blood pressure. Under the new guidelines, normal range is less than 120 systolic AND less than 80 diastolic and high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is defined as 130-139 systolic OR 80-89 diastolic. Below is a chart of the updated categories for blood pressure. It is important to work with a medical professional to confirm a high blood pressure diagnosis and treatment plan.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance and it’s something your body needs to build cells. But too much can be a problem. Cholesterol is made naturally in the body, specifically by your liver, and it makes all the cholesterol you need. The rest comes animal products, including meat, poultry and full-fat dairy. These foods contain dietary cholesterol, but also saturated and trans fats. These fats cause your liver to make more cholesterol than it otherwise would, meaning your blood cholesterol levels could go from normal to unhealthy.
What is high cholesterol?
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). As cholesterol circulates in your blood, the “bad” cholesterol can build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. The “good” cholesterol helps to clean up this build up, meaning that too much “bad” cholesterol or not enough “good” cholesterol can be unhealthy. Together with other substances, cholesterol can form a thick, hard deposit that can narrow arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which can cause a clot leading to a heart attack or stroke.
What can you do to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol?
There are three simple steps to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and preventing more serious diseases, such as heart disease and stroke: Check. Change. Control.
First, schedule an appointment for a wellness visit with your primary care physician to check blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as other important health numbers such as blood sugar and weight. Your healthcare provider can determine if your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are high and will work with you to come up with a treatment plan.
Second, whether or not you are diagnosed with high blood pressure or cholesterol, you can begin to make lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk for these and other diseases. Important changes include:
- Eating a well-balanced, low-salt diet
- Limiting alcohol
- Enjoying regular physical activity
- Managing stress
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Taking medications properly
Lastly, by controlling your risk by modifying your lifestyle and working with your healthcare provider, you can prevent the major health consequences associated with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
For more tips on living healthy and reducing your risk, visit healthyforgood.heart.org.