06/29/2012 11:14 am ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

Before The Damage Is Done -- Keep Your Pressure Under Control

One in three American adults have high blood pressure, a serious condition that can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. High blood pressure can damage the kidneys without any warning, but the news isn't all bad. By knowing your risk and keeping tabs on your numbers, you may be able to prevent blood pressure from getting out of control. Though there is no cure, treatment can lower blood pressure. If it is mild or considered "pre-hypertension," it may sometimes be brought under control by making healthier lifestyle choices such as regular exercise and a low-salt diet.

What is pre-hypertension?

For most adults, high blood pressure consists of a systolic (upper number) pressure of 140 or higher, and a diastolic (lower number) pressure of 90 or higher. People who have systolic blood pressure of 120-139 or diastolic blood pressure of 80-89 are said to have "pre-hypertension." Those who fall in the category of having pre-hypertension should talk to their doctors about lifestyle changes that can help them prevent high blood pressure. Optimal blood pressure is 120/80 or less.

How is pre-hypertension diagnosed?

Pre-hypertension is diagnosed during routine, annual checkups. It's important to make sure your primary care physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant is checking your blood pressure on an ongoing basis, especially since elevated blood pressure usually causes no symptoms. Having these numbers checked routinely is critical in protecting your kidneys.

Are you at risk?

Unfortunately there is no single cause of hypertension. There are many causes of high blood pressure. The most common cause is that you inherit it from your mother or your father. However, some things may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. According to the National Kidney Foundation, these include:

  • Race: African Americans have high blood pressure more often and more severely than whites.
  • Age: The tendency to develop high blood pressure increases as you age.
  • Obesity: People who are overweight have a greater chance of developing high blood pressure.
  • Lack of exercise: An inactive lifestyle may contribute to being overweight, which is a risk factor for high blood pressure.
  • Excessive alcohol use: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase blood pressure.
  • Too much dietary salt: Heavy use of salt can increase blood pressure.
  • Oral contraceptives: Women who take the pill have an increased chance of developing high blood pressure, especially if they also smoke.
  • Gender: Until age 45, high blood pressure is more common in men than women. Between ages 45 and 54 the risk is similar. After age 54, more women than men will have high blood pressure.
  • Other Diseases: Having chronic kidney disease increases your chance of developing high blood pressure.

How is it treated?

If mild, blood pressure may sometimes be brought under control by making changes to a healthier lifestyle such as losing excess weight, cutting down on fat and salt in your diet, limiting your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for woman, quitting smoking, and starting a regular exercise program approved by your doctor. You can also help yourself by having regular medical checkups, taking all your medications faithfully, following your doctor's recommendations, and getting your whole family involved in your care plan.

Celebrate Independence Day Free of Salt

This year on July 4th, you can have your burger and eat it too. No need to sacrifice taste for health. Try these low sodium, kidney-friendly barbecue recipes from the National Kidney Foundation. Watch the video to see how we whipped this up in the Kidney Kitchen.

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For more by Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP, click here.

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