FTC: Thank you to the American Heart Associationfor sponsoring this post and allowing me the space and freedom to share such an intimate story.

How High Blood Pressure Gets In The Way Of A Health Is Wealth Lifestyle

Two of the most important people in my life have been hospitalized in the last five months. Though both had to be admitted for differing health reasons, they both have something brutally in common. When they underwent the routine health check during intake, both of their blood pressure readings were through the roof. That of course, complicated matters quite a bit.

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My maternal grandmother is turning 85 years old this August, and in November of 2018 I came home from a run to find her unconscious in our living room. She was rushed to the hospital in ambulance and had a blood pressure reading of 148/ 95.  One of the many consequences my grandmother faces with uncontrollable high blood pressure is frequent life threatening conditions that have led to heart failure twice in the last 24 months. She has been on and off high blood pressure medication for the last 23 years of her life. My grandmother is not alone in this.

My father turned 61 years old in January, and in April 2019 was taken to the emergency room due to immense, and might I add scary stomach pains. His intake procedure would reveal a 156 over 90 blood pressure reading, to which he would calmly reply: “I’m just a little stressed that’s all”. He has begrudgingly and involuntarily been on blood pressure medication for the last 16 years of his life.

Both my father and my grandmother are a part of the estimated 103 million people who have high blood pressure. And while they both have machines to check their blood pressure at home (we have two of them in the house ya’ll) they don’t check nearly as much as they should. Another thing they don’t do… is take their medication accordingly. That is a major problem in itself.

One of the things I hate the most about going to annual physicals, are those pesky repetitive health surveys and questionnaires. They ask the same things over and over again in various ways, and the answer is almost always no. However, without hesitation, when I get to the family history part, I always have to check off, YES, high blood pressure does run in my family.  Not only runs in my family, it controls many aspects of my family’s life.

I consider myself to be playing a scary game of high blood pressure Russian roulette. Because high blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” since it typically has no symptoms. The only way to really keep track of your blood pressure is to actually check. When I go to any doctors appointment, whether my annual physical with my PCP or annual gyno appointment, I make it a point to pay attention to my high blood pressure numbers.high blood pressure

I’ve been very fortunate to have readings that fall consistently in the normal range of less than 120 (systolic- the upper number) and less than 80 (diastolic- the lower number). Every 10mm rise in systolic blood pressure can increase your chance of heart disease or stroke by 17%.

high blood pressure

My father and grandmother’s blood pressure falls into the high blood pressure/ hypertension stage 2, which is the last stage before hypertensive crisis. Like I mentioned earlier they are required to be on medication to help control their hypertension, but there are other things we as concerned and caring family members do to help them remain as healthy as possible. My father works for the MTA, so his job requires a lot of sitting in one place. To help combat that, my brothers have started taking him to the gym to increase his physical activity. Because he’s also hella competitive I’ve given him an Apple watch and do frequent step challenges to see who can take more steps in the week.

As a Caribbean household most of our meals include large amounts of rice, sauces, and red meat with tons of delicious seasoning might I add. This usually lends itself easily to tons of salt which is a huge no no for anyone trying to have a healthy balanced diet. As a family we’ve collectively decided for the sake of my grandmother, my father and ourselves to eat healthier together to make the transition easier for them. This means less salt, less red meat and more vegetables. My mom has begun to swap out some of our staples like rice and beans to healthier versions like quinoa. To make sure my dad avoids eating foods from restaurants that may use large amounts of sodium, she also makes extra portions so my dad can bring food to work instead of eating out for lunch.

High blood pressure is the second most common cause of preventable death from any cause (including non-cardiovascular deaths). This month, and all months moving forward I challenge you to have your blood pressure checked and learn your risk by using AHA’s interactive blood pressure chart.

Don’t just stop there! Knowing is half the battle. What’s the other half? The doing! Make changes that truly matter and make a difference in saving your life. High blood pressure prevents you from living your best life and that is simply unacceptable. Eat cleaner, move more, and take care of your mental health (yes my dad did have a point about his stress affecting his numbers!). The most important is not to do it alone! Seek support from your friends, your family, your health care professional.