By Doug Morin, Executive Director, Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, Indio CA

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in Bethesda, Maryland provides global leadership for research, training, and education programs to promote the prevention and treatment of heart, lung, and blood diseases.  High blood pressure is a major public health problem that affects 1 in 3 American adults. The condition, also called the “silent killer,” is an important risk factor for health problems including heart attack, heart failure, stroke, chronic kidney disease, and cognitive function decline.

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, happens when this force is too high. It has no warning signs or symptoms, and the only way to know if you have it is to have a pharmacist or health care worker check blood pressure readings using a gauge, stethoscope or electronic sensor, and a blood pressure cuff. Cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

High blood pressure is a major public health problem that affects 1 in 3 American adults, and many patients have difficulty keeping their blood pressure under control. In 2015, results from a National Institutes of Health study revealed that achieving a blood pressure target lower than the target commonly recommended can save lives and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in non-diabetic adults 50 years and older with high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can damage your heart and brain, but you can control it and lower your risk for serious health problems. Brain cells die during a stroke because they don’t get enough oxygen, and strokes can cause serious disabilities in speech, movement, and other activities…and a stroke can kill you. Decreased blood flow to the heart can cause angina (chest pain), heart failure (the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs), and heart attack (when the blood supply to your heart is blocked and your heart muscle begins to die without enough oxygen).

By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. That means eating a mostly plant-based diet and avoiding salt, maintaining a healthy weight, getting lots of physical activity, not smoking, and limiting alcohol use.