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Do you have high blood pressure?

Reducing sodium consumption by just 30 percent could prevent more than 100,000 cases of high blood pressure and save more than $200 million in medical costs in Illinois, where cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke remain a leading cause of death. The nation recently celebrated High Blood Pressure Education Month, and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is encouraging healthy lifestyle changes to reduce diagnosis of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, in Illinois.

“High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. Certain lifestyle changes, like regular exercise, quitting smoking and following a low sodium diet rich in fruit and vegetables, can reduce and help maintain a healthy blood pressure,” said IDPH Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. “Make control your goal.”

Written as two figures, blood pressure is measured as the pressure when the heart has pumped (systolic) and when the heart is in between beats (diastolic), and is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Traditionally, blood pressure is considered “normal” when systolic pressure (the higher number) is less than 120 mmHg and diastolic pressure (the lower number) is less than 80 mmHg. People at risk for high blood pressure, often called “pre-hypertension,” have systolic pressure between 120 and 139 mmHg or diastolic between 80 and 89 mmHg. High blood pressure means systolic pressure is 140 mmHg or higher or diastolic is 90 mmHg or higher.

In the United States, 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure, but many are unaware they have the condition because of a lack of symptoms. In Illinois, one-third of all adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. The prevalence of high blood pressure increases with age — 63 percent of adults in Illinois age 65 and older have high blood pressure. Hypertension-related health conditions account for more than 200,000 hospitalizations a year in Illinois at a cost of more than $9 billion.

African-Americans suffer from hypertension in disproportionate numbers, representing about 14 percent of the population in Illinois, but 42 percent of all cases. Geographically, rural Pulaski County leads the state in adults with high blood pressure, at nearly 45 percent; Bond County in the Metro East area of the state has the lowest rate, at 23 percent.

Blood pressure can be kept under control with the following healthy habits:

• Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

• Participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.

• Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol.

Reduce sodium intake. Guidelines recommend up to 2,300 mg of sodium per day for an adult. Those at higher risk should consume even less — no more than 1,500 mg per day.

Manage stress.

• Limit alcohol consumption. No more than one drink each day for women and two for men.

• If you have high blood pressure, take your medication as directed.

• Quit smoking — and if you don’t smoke, don’t start. Call the Illinois Tobacco Quitline for free assistance with tobacco cessation: 866-QUIT-YES.

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