The Coastal Star

Health & Harmony: Know your BP: Doctors emphasize education, prevention first

By Joyce Reingold

Blood pressure monitoring is a routine part of most doctors’ office visits, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 adults with hypertension is unaware of it. Left untreated, hypertension can lead to heart disease, stroke and a host of other physical conditions.

Since May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, it’s a perfect time to check in with your physician and tune in to your blood pressure.

“I think one of the biggest take-home points is that you can have high blood pressure and feel perfectly fine,” says Dr. Leonard Berkowitz, lead physician at FAU Medicine Primary Care, which opened in Boca Raton in February. “Not everybody has headaches or dizziness. And that’s why it’s important in prevention to get your blood pressure checked.” 

Berkowitz will present a free lecture, “High Blood Pressure Prevention,” from 10:30 a.m. to noon on May 22 at the downtown branch of the Boca Raton Public Library.

Some of the good news he will share is that many adults can ease their way back to normal blood pressure readings — now designated as lower than 120/80 — by making common lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating healthier foods and becoming more active.

“If someone comes in with high blood pressure, we always try — as long as it’s not extremely elevated — to go with conservative approaches if we can, which includes things like a proper diet. That’s a very important piece,” he says.

Berkowitz recommends the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension  — the DASH diet, which is high in fiber and low in saturated fat and sodium.

The American Heart Association says losing even 5-10 pounds may help lower blood pressure. In managing salt consumption, the AHA recommends adults stick to between 1,500-2,300 milligrams of sodium a day.

“In a perfect world, we try to minimize the amount to less than 1,500 mg a day, but that is usually difficult to get to,” says Dr. Carlos Victorica, a primary care provider in Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s BocaCare Physician Network.

Cooking at home is an effective way to control and lower salt intake, since the AHA estimates that over 70 percent of the sodium in diets comes from packaged and restaurant foods.

“People will always mention, ‘I don’t add any salt to my food,’ but salt is a very common preservative,” Victorica says. “It helps to improve the palatability of food. We just advise patients to be mindful of what the ingredients are in their foods, and to try to cook more on their own.”

Some patients are using apps to track their sodium consumption, he says. 

Starting an exercise program can be a hurdle for sedentary adults, so the experts advise making gradual changes.

“Something is better than nothing, and we all have to start somewhere,” the AHA says.

Optimally, adults should engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, according to the AHA.

Tobacco, caffeine and alcohol consumption are other risk factors your physician may discuss with you.

“I think education for patients is important because they may not be aware that some very common things can raise your blood pressure, i.e., too much alcohol, certain medications like Advil and products like that,” Berkowitz says. “So, I think general education about hypertension is important, because we have to make sure we address it on all levels.”

Scheduling a blood pressure check can begin that conversation. “Avoiding the situation can lead to problems, whereas going in and getting it checked and treated can really help,” Berkowitz says.

“When people can make modifications in these risk factors … they feel healthier,” Victorica says. “Their diets have improved, their physical activity levels have improved, they sleep better. It’s an avenue for us to improve many facets of a patient’s health.”

To register, or for more information on Berkowitz’s presentation May 22, visit the calendar page at bocalibrary.org or call 393-7852.

Joyce Reingold writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to  joyce.reingold@yahoo.com.

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