We all know heart disease is one of the leading killers in America, and high blood pressure can certainly contribute to your risk. But how much do you know about hypertension, really? For one, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us one out of every three adults has high blood pressure, and only half of them are managing it. This leads to about 1,000 deaths each day from health conditions that are caused by hypertension — think heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failures, and kidney disease.
Curious to see how much you know about this condition? Here are the top myths you must stop believing.
1. If it runs in your family, there’s nothing you can do about it
Just because it runs in your family doesn’t mean you’re destined to have it. | iStock.com/AndreyPopov
Maybe your mother and father both have high blood pressure and you think you’re doomed to also have the condition. Well, there’s good news for you — genetics aren’t everything. The CDC says even if you haven’t won the genetic lottery, there are other things that can greatly reduce your risk of developing hypertension. This is where avoiding tobacco, eating nutrient-dense foods, and maintaining a healthy weight comes into play. It’s never too late to lower your blood pressure, either, so talk to your parents about lifestyle changes they can make as well.
Next: Avoiding the salt shaker won’t have the effect you might expect.
2. Avoiding table salt will help reduce your blood pressure
Table salt isn’t the only source of sodium to watch for. | iStock.com/Sebalos
There’s a lot of debate on whether a low-sodium diet is beneficial for those with high blood pressure, but here’s the truth: The average American diet is loaded with salt, regardless of whether it’s giving you problems. The American Heart Association recommends most adults consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day — that’s less than 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. You probably think you’re doing your blood pressure a favor by skipping the table salt during mealtime, but keep in mind the majority of your sodium isn’t coming from the shaker. It’s coming from processed foods.
Next: Symptoms aren’t always going to surface.
3. You don’t have to worry about your blood pressure if you feel fine
You still need to get your blood pressure checked, no matter how fine you feel. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages
You may have some preconceived notions of what high blood pressure is supposed to feel like. Perhaps you envision someone who is always overheated, sweating, or nervous, but that’s typically not the case. In fact, NorthBay Healthcare states you likely won’t experience any symptoms if you have hypertension, but that doesn’t mean you’re not putting your heart, kidneys, and brain in grave danger. Don’t let your high blood pressure reading go to the wayside because you don’t feel ill. Seeking treatment can be life-saving.
Next: You’ve probably been hearing fibs when it comes to alcohol intake and your heart.
4. Drinking red wine is fine if you have high blood pressure
Step away from the alcohol. | iStock.com
You’ve heard it before — drinking a glass of red wine is surprisingly good for your heart, and so it must be OK to consume if you have high blood pressure, too. There are a few flaws in this thought. First, a meta-analysis from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found there’s not really any strong evidence to support drinking in moderation is healthy. Secondly, Mayo Clinic reports drinking can raise your blood pressure both temporarily and in the long-term. That glass of wine at dinner may not be so good after all.
Next: Getting a reading once each year might not cut it.
5. You don’t need to take your own blood pressure readings at home
The cuff-style monitors are most accurate, so buy yourself one of these. | iStock.com
You might not think one high blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office means much, but in this case, it’s a really good idea to have your own monitor at home. The AHA recommends anyone who’s on blood pressure medication take home readings in addition to having them with a physician to see if the treatment is making a difference. As for what kind of monitor you should be using, go for the cuff-style ones that wrap around your bicep. Wrist and finger monitors aren’t as reliable.
Next: Do you know how to take your own blood pressure readings?
How to take your blood pressure reading at home
Keep track of your blood pressure findings in a journal. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages
Perhaps you’ve taken a moment to go dig up that old cuff-style blood pressure reader out of your basement. Great! But that’s just step one — getting an accurate reading yourself takes more than just throwing the cuff on and hoping for the best. Make sure you haven’t smoked, exercised, or had caffeine within 30 minutes of taking your reading.
Next: Your doctor knows better than you when it comes to meds.
6. You can stop taking your blood pressure medications once the readings lower
Ask your doctor before changing or stopping your medication. | iStock.com/Thanmano
Perhaps you take medication to treat your high blood pressure and you’re finally seeing results — awesome! But don’t get ahead of yourself by abruptly stopping your treatment without a doctor’s orders. Verywell explains drug therapy is incredibly effective at controlling blood pressure without any real downsides, and it also helps protect your kidneys.
If you’ve made healthy lifestyle changes and your numbers have been in the normal range for more than six months, feel free to ask your doctor about a trial run without your meds.
Next: But you should know there are other options.
Don’t like your current medication? Ask about other options
There are many medications used to treat high blood pressure. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages
Not all medications are going to make you feel your best, even if they’re helpful in the long run. Luckily, there’s more than one option for you if you have high blood pressure. Diuretics are commonly prescribed to those with this condition, but some of them may cause low potassium levels or blood sugar issues in diabetics, says the AHA. In this case, ask your doctor about beta-blockers, which work to reduce the heart’s workload, or ACE inhibitors, which allow your blood vessels to relax. There’s a laundry list of medications you can try if you find the side effects are negatively impacting your life, so always ask about your options.
Next: Popping pills will only get you so far.
7. If you’re taking medication, you don’t have to worry about exercise or diet
Try going for daily walks to boost your activity. | iStock.com
Thanks to modern medicine, having high blood pressure is highly treatable. But that doesn’t mean you can sit back and let the pills do all the legwork. It’s likely your doctor will recommend you start getting a bit more active to help treat your condition, so take the suggestion seriously. Try to go for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity — think briskly walking — three to four times a week to see the best results.
As far as your diet is concerned, you’ll need to pay extra attention. Go for foods high in potassium, like bananas, and omega-3s, like salmon. Whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts, and olive oil are also good to incorporate.
Next: It’s time to get moving.
The best exercises for those with high blood pressure
Use light to moderate weight if you have high blood pressure. | iStock.com/diego_cervo
Ready to get moving? Vic Froelicher, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, shares his thoughts on exercising when you have hypertension with Prevention. First, make sure you’re not overdoing it. Anything that requires quick bursts of energy could boost your blood pressure temporarily, so a steady walk is a better idea. If you’re planning on doing some resistance training, don’t go for the heaviest weights you can find. Moderate weight with a moderate number of reps will be to your benefit.
Next: This myth might give you a false sense of security.
8. As long as one number is normal, your blood pressure is fine
One number being higher than the other can still lead to heart problems. | iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
You’ve probably had your blood pressure taken hundreds of times in your life, but you may not really know what those numbers mean. Or, maybe you do, and as long as one of those numbers is normal, you feel like you’re free to shrug it off. Mayo Clinic explains both the top and bottom numbers matter when determining whether or not you have high blood pressure. In fact, if your top number is too high and your bottom number is totally normal, you have a very common condition known as isolated systolic hypertension. Having this for too long can result in an increased risk of cardiovascular problems over time.
Next: Hypertension might have less to do with age than you think.
9. High blood pressure only really matters if you’re older
Those under 50 should still be concerned of high blood pressure. | iStock.com
You’re more likely to have hypertension when you’re older, but don’t ignore an abnormal reading just because you haven’t yet reached 50 years of age. A study in the Journal of American College of Cardiology followed nearly 2,500 men and women between the ages of 18 to 30 for more than 25 years.. They found those who had slightly elevated blood pressure levels as young adults were a lot more likely to show signs of heart disease later in life. Basically, prehypertension is no joke — get it treated early to avoid trouble down the road.
Next: Listen up, ladies.
10. Men are more likely to have high blood pressure
It’s actually the women who have more to worry about here. | iStock.com/jacoblund
If you think men make up the majority of those who develop hypertension, we’ll give you some credit — the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says men are more likely to have high blood pressure in the under-55-years-old category. But things change after this age. Women are actually more likely to develop the condition post-55. Ladies, get an annual check-up for this reason.
Next: Rethink your supplement stratgy.
11. Over-the-counter medications are totally safe for those with high blood pressure
Check with your doctor to make sure your OTC meds are safe. | iStock.com
If you don’t need a prescription to take it, it’s totally safe, right? Not exactly. WebMD explains some OTC meds like certain decongestants, pain meds, and cold and flu symptom relievers can actually raise your blood pressure or interfere with your hypertension medication. Even vitamins and supplements can have this effect if you’re not careful. And if you’re prone to taking antacids for heartburn, know they can have lots of sodium. If you’re currently taking something to lower your blood pressure, ask your doctor or pharmacist about OTC meds you can take without interference.
Next: Does the thought of getting your blood pressure checked freak you out?
12. White coat hypertension is nothing to worry about
White coat hypertension might be more serious than you think. | iStock.com/utah778
Visiting the doctor probably isn’t your favorite activity. If you get particularly anxious surrounding your annual exam, you may see a spike in your blood pressure. You probably think this is no big deal, especially if you take your own readings at home and they’re all normal. But here’s why you should be paying attention to those high doctor’s office readings — they give you insight into how your body deals with stress. Everyday Health explains seeing your blood pressure rise to unhealthy levels every time you experience stress can put a lot of strain on your heart over time.
Don’t disregard your doctor’s readings just because of white coat anxiety. If anything, use it as an opportunity to address your stress levels and work to lower them.
Read more: 10 Foods Everyone With High Blood Pressure Should Be Eating
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