Diet, Lifestyle Changes Key to Eluding ‘The Silent Killer’

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2008 11:57

By Dr. Bob Uslander

As an emergency physician, I am all too familiar with the unfortunate consequences of uncontrolled high blood pressure. Also known as hypertension, it is at least partially responsible for the majority of heart attacks and strokes that I treat on a daily basis, and also leads to kidney failure and vision loss. It is such a tragedy when a family loses a loved one or an individual becomes permanently disabled from the complications of hypertension when, with proper attention, it could have been avoided.

Hypertension is a silent killer. It is so common that people tend to think of it as an unavoidable consequence of aging, rather than an actual disease. Many people do not understand the importance of aggressive treatment. Hypertension is a disease, one with potentially devastating consequences. It affects one in three adults in the U.S. Unfortunately, a third of those who have the disease don’t know they have it, so they don’t seek medical attention. Even worse, two thirds of those diagnosed with hypertension do not have it under adequate control, leaving them vulnerable to the ravages of the disease while under the false assumption that they are not.

Undiagnosed, untreated or under-treated hypertension is a major health issue, causing millions of heart attacks, strokes, damaged kidneys, brain hemorrhages, and other illnesses.  That’s the bad news. The good news is that with lifestyle modification and appropriate use of medications, these consequences can usually be avoided or at least greatly minimized.

Hypertension only creates problems when the blood pressure is allowed to stay elevated over a prolonged period of time. The increased pressure of the blood coursing through the circulatory system causes microscopic injury to the lining of blood vessels and, at the same time, puts increased stress on the heart muscle.  This is the underlying mechanism by which hypertension exerts its damaging effects.

The biggest problem with hypertension is that there are usually no signs or symptoms to warn you about it. Unless it is picked up during a routine exam, it can go untreated for years and by the time it is diagnosed, significant damage may already have occurred to the body’s major organ systems. That is why hypertension is referred to as “the silent killer.”

While you may not be able to completely avoid developing the condition due to genetic factors, you can certainly reduce your chances of developing hypertension, and, at the very least, reduce the odds that the disease will have serious consequences for you.

How? By making some fairly simple, but permanent, lifestyle changes under a plan I devised called “BE CALMMM.” Its components:

Be Active

Eat Smart

Control Stress

Avoid Tobacco

Limit Alcohol

Maintain a healthy weight

Maintain a close relationship with your health-care provider

Medicate appropriately

One reason I like this acronym is that it’s easy to remember and highlights a factor often associated with hypertension – stress. Also, adopting these lifestyle changes will help reduce the impact of many other medical conditions that you are at risk for as you age, and will help you feel better and healthier overall.

One important step is to gradually start eating more healthfully. Research from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute shows that a healthy eating plan called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure and lower your blood pressure if it’s already high.

The DASH plan requires no special foods and has no hard-to-follow recipes. It emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, and also includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. It is moderate in total fat and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. If you reduce your salt and sodium intake, it works even better.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Make gradual changes like adding a serving of fruit or vegetables at lunch and dinner.
  • Gradually increase your use of fat-free and low-fat dairy products to three servings a day.
  • Gradually cut in half the amount of butter, margarine, or salad dressing you eat.
  • If you now eat large portions of meat, cut them back by a half or third at each meal.
  • Try two or more vegetarian meals each week.
  • Try casseroles, pasta and stir-fry dishes, which have less meat and more vegetables, grains, and dry beans.
  • Try fresh or dried fruits, raw vegetables, or low-fat and fat-free yogurt for snacks.

Remember, hypertension does not have to hurt or kill. It is not an inevitable consequence of aging, and you do have control over how much it impacts your life.

Dr. Uslander has been a practicing emergency physician since 1991. He is also the founder and president of Seniority Lifecare at Home (532-4500), a local company providing in-home companionship and personal care to elderly residents of Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

© 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2008 11:57
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