Common Health Issues

High blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are more common than you think. Learn how to prevent and control them with a few lifestyle changes.

Blood Pressure

Did you know that about 76.4 million Americans have high blood pressure? The good news is that high blood pressure, or hypertension, can be prevented and controlled with a few lifestyle changes.

“So what exactly is blood pressure?” you ask. Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels. When the pressure gets too high, the heart has to work even harder to deliver blood to all of the areas of the body. That extra work can cause heart attacks and stroke. It can also cause the walls of the arteries to harden. High blood pressure is also a major risk factor for other diseases like kidney (renal) disease and congestive heart failure (CHF).

What causes high blood pressure? The experts don’t have a definitive cause; however, the following are highly associated with the presence of high blood pressure: smoking, stress, age, obesity or being overweight, lack of exercise, consuming high amounts of salt, consuming more than two glasses of alcohol per day, genetics, renal disease and adrenal or thyroid disorders.

Living a healthier lifestyle is a great place to start when managing high blood pressure. The DASH Eating Plan, which can be found at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf, is a diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat, and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. It also contains foods high in potassium, calcium and magnesium. Because sodium intake is strongly related to hypertension, following the DASH Eating Plan may greatly help to lower blood pressure levels, as it is low in sodium.

Exercise is also very beneficial for helping to lower blood pressure. Aerobic exercise is like a workout for your heart – the stronger it is, the easier time it has pumping blood to all areas of your body. Therefore, it is important to engage in aerobic exercise several times per week to help maintain healthy blood pressure.

If you need any additional information, check out what the American Heart Association has to say about high blood pressure at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002050_Article.jsp.

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Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that currently affects 25.8 million people in the United States. The pancreas makes insulin, which helps glucose (food is converted into glucose after consumption) enter cells. When the pancreas can no longer make enough insulin, glucose becomes highly concentrated in the blood.

There are three types of diabetes. Type 1 usually starts in childhood. It is an autoimmune disease. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but researchers are finding that the body attacks the beta cells in the pancreas. Beta cells are responsible for making insulin. When this happens, the body becomes insulin dependent and injections are needed for the duration of the patient’s life.

Type 2 diabetes can happen at any point during a person’s life. It occurs most often in adulthood when the pancreas starts producing less insulin, or the body doesn’t respond to its own insulin as it has in the past. Researchers believe obesity, low physical activity levels and diets high in fat contribute to the development of this condition. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by exercising and eating healthier.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. Glucose levels usually return to the levels they were prior to pregnancy. It can be dangerous for the mother and unborn child if not treated. Women who develop gestational diabetes have a 35%–60% chance of developing type 2 diabetes during the 10–20 years after the baby is born.

All types of diabetes can have serious health complications if not monitored and treated continuously. Thankfully, losing weight and practicing a healthier lifestyle can greatly decrease the amount of medication and injections a person with type 2 diabetes will need.

If you want more information, recipes and fitness tips, check out www.diabetes.org and www.cdc.gov/diabetes.

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Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease, or coronary artery disease, is a very serious illness affecting many Americans. In fact, it is the number one cause of death of men and women in the United States.

Occasionally, a person may have coronary heart disease and have no symptoms at all. However, symptoms usually do occur, like chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue. If you have experienced any of these symptoms, especially during a period of physical exertion, a visit to your doctor should be scheduled.

Many of the causes of heart disease can be managed. Diet, fitness level, weight, blood pressure and substance abuse can all contribute to heart disease. You should consume a diet low in saturated fat and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day during most days of the week. Quitting smoking and not using illegal drugs will also dramatically decrease your chance of developing the disease. Blood pressure can be managed by medication or oftentimes by lifestyle changes.

If you want to read more about diseases of the heart, check out www.heart.org or the National Institutes of Health at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004449/.

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