May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. National High Blood Pressure Education Month raises awareness about the impact high blood pressure (HBP) can have on health. HBP prevention and control is a major public health challenge. HBP can cause stroke, heart attack and other health issues which can lead to Long Term Health Care. It should not be surprising that May is also Stroke Awareness Month because of the connect of HBP and stroke.

High Blood Pressure, also known as hypertension, is the leading risk factor for stroke and a major cause of morbidity and mortality according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). In the United States, nearly one in three adults has hypertension, but only about half (47%) of those have it under control. Hypertension is considered the “silent killer” because it can damage the heart, brain, and kidneys without any symptoms. Each day in the United States, nearly 1,000 deaths are associated with hypertension.

National High Blood Pressure Education Month aims to save lives by increasing awareness and educating the public about cardiovascular risks and how to prevent them. To control hypertension, patients can take medications as directed, measure their blood pressure, and eat a lower-sodium diet and more fruits and vegetables.

Your doctors are interested in your blood pressure because high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart, brain, kidney and blood vessel disease. The health issues of uncontrolled or poorly controlled HBP are serious. These health complications not only can cause death but can cause issues which create the need for Long Term Health Care. Even if your blood pressure is under good control with medications remember, it is your medication that is controlling the hypertension. If you skip doses your blood pressure rises. The medication controls the blood pressure, it does not cure it.

Low blood pressure is also an issue. Your blood pressure needs to be high enough to do its job of supplying blood and providing vital oxygen to your limbs, organs and more importantly the brain, says cardiologist Mouin Abdallah, MD of the Cleveland Clinic. Some conditions can impair blood vessel health and result in low blood pressure.  Examples include infections, paralysis — which can be injury or stroke-related— and certain endocrine disorders such as low cortisol levels.

The Mayo Clinic notes the issues of high blood pressure. They include artery damage and narrowing. HBP can damage the cells of your arteries' inner lining. That launches a cascade of events that make artery walls thick and stiff, a disease called arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Fats from a person’s diet enter the bloodstream, pass through the damaged cells and collect to start atherosclerosis. These changes can affect arteries throughout the body, blocking blood flow to the heart, kidneys, brain, arms and legs. The damage can cause many problems, including chest pain (angina), heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, stroke, blocked arteries in a person’s legs or arms (peripheral artery disease), eye damage, and aneurysms.

Aneurysms are another problem created because of HBP. Over time, the constant pressure of blood moving through a weakened artery can cause a section of its wall to enlarge and form a bulge (aneurysm). This can potentially rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding. Aneurysms can form in any artery throughout the body, but they're most common in the aorta, the body's largest artery.

Damage to the brain is one of the areas that long term or poorly or uncontrolled HBP can create. These includes TIA’s (Transient ischemic attack) otherwise known as a mini-stroke.

A TIA is a brief, temporary disruption of blood supply to the brain. It's often caused by atherosclerosis or a blood clot — both of which can arise from HBP. A TIA is often a warning that a person is at risk of a full-blown stroke.

A stroke occurs when part of the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, causing brain cells to die. Often the results of the stroke are not reversible and prevent a person from doing normal activities of daily living, speaking and even cause memory loss and death.

Dementia can be caused because of complications due to HBP. This brain disease results in problems with thinking, speaking, reasoning, memory, vision and movement. There are several causes of dementia. One cause, vascular dementia, can result from narrowing and blockage of the arteries that supply blood to the brain. It can also result from strokes caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain. In either case, HBP may be the culprit.

Mild cognitive impairment is a transition stage between the changes in understanding and memory that come with aging and the more-serious problems caused by Alzheimer's disease. Like dementia, it can result from blocked blood flow to the brain when HBP damages arteries.

There are a number of kidney issues which occur due to HBP. All this means is many people ignore HBP or fail to have their blood pressure checked on a regular basis. The complications due to HBP result with many more health issues and Long Term Care issues which many fail to understand.

The CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention focuses on promoting cardiovascular health and improving quality of care for all and eliminating disparities associated with heart disease and stroke.

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People should get regular check-ups, monitor their blood pressure and plan for the financial costs and burdens of aging. Remember, HBP is a dangerous condition that can lead to strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, or kidney disease. Fortunately, there are certain things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure. The Cleveland Clinic suggests the following:

Eat right: A healthy diet is an important step in keeping your blood pressure normal. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) emphasizes adding fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet while reducing the amount of sodium. Since it is rich in fruits and vegetables, which are naturally lower in sodium than many other foods, the DASH diet makes it easier to eat less salt and sodium.

Keep a healthy weight: Going hand-in-hand with a proper diet is keeping a healthy weight. Since being overweight increases your blood pressure, losing excess weight with diet and exercise will help lower your blood pressure to healthier levels.

Cut down on salt: The recommendation for salt in your diet is to have less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day (equal to about one teaspoon). To prevent hypertension, you should keep your salt intake below this level. Don't forget that most restaurant foods (especially fast foods) and many processed and frozen foods contain high levels of salt. Use herbs and spices that do not contain salt in recipes to flavor your food; do not add salt at the table. (Salt substitutes usually have some salt in them.)

Keep active: Even simple physical activities, such as walking, can lower your blood pressure (and your weight).

Drink alcohol in moderation: Having more than one drink a day (for women) and two drinks a day (for men) can raise blood pressure.

Because of the connection of HBP and stroke you would be aware about the stroke program “Acting FAST”.

According to the National Stroke Association, a person experiencing a stroke can be treated if people have acted FAST.

FAST being an acronym for things to check in a suspected stroke victim:

  • F - Face / Does the face droop on one side when the person smiles?
  • A - Arm / After raising both arms, does one of the arms drift downwards?
  • S - Speech /After repeating a simple phrase, does the person’s speech sound slurred or strange?
  • T - Time / If any or all of the above are observed call for 9-1-1 and ask for medical assistance.

Additional information is available at the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure and http://www.cdc.gov/stroke.

Don’t forget the costs of healthcare that come with aging related issues of HBP and stroke. An advance plan to address the financial costs and burdens of aging will protect assets and ease the burden Long-Term Care places on family. Long-Term Care Insurance is an affordable option for many people. Even if you remain healthy throughout life just normal aging issues will cause problems that cause the need for help with normal activities or daily living or supervision due to cognitive problems.