If you are in the elevated or Stage 1 category, your goal should be to make lifestyle changes now to control your blood pressure. If you are in stage 2, you should discuss with your physician if you need medication to help manage your blood pressure, or if you can control your blood pressure through lifestyle changes alone. In either category, lifestyle changes will be necessary to successfully manage your blood pressure.
Track your blood pressure
Cigarette smoking is one of the major risk factors for heart disease - in fact, smoking increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by 2 to 4 times. Women who smoke have a 25% higher risk of heart disease than men who smoke (Source: American Heart Association).
The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the cells in the body, including the heart and the blood vessels. Smoking increases the "bad" LDL cholesterol and decreases the "good" HDL cholesterol, and increases triglycerides, leading to more plaque formation in the artery walls. Smoking raises blood pressure and heart rate. Smoking also makes blood "sticky" and more likely to clot, blocking blood flow to the heart and brain. And the carbon monoxide in smoke decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood that can reach your heart, brain, and body.
No wonder smoking can make you feel so out of breath and tired!
Second-hand smoke is also dangerous - even breathing second-hand smoke for a few minutes can damage the lining of your blood vessels and cause your blood to become stickier.
If you smoke and have other risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol, obesity, or diabetes, your risk significantly increases.
The good news is that smoking is the most controllable risk factor of all, and quitting smoking can cut your risk of heart disease in half in just one year!
We can all make small changes in these areas that can really pay off in terms of decreasing our risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, peripheral arterial disease, and stroke.
High Blood Cholesterol and triglycerides
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is used to help build cells. We actually need cholesterol in our bodies. Cholesterol is made in the liver, and the liver makes all the cholesterol our bodies need.
There are two types of cholesterol. We talk about these two types of cholesterol as being the "good" cholesterol and the "bad" cholesterol.
Low Density Lipoprotein, or LDL for short, is the bad type of cholesterol. This type of cholesterol builds up in the artery walls as part of plaque, contributing to hardening and thickening of the arteries, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The higher the level of LDL in your bloodstream, the higher your risk of heart disease is.
High Density Lipoprotein, or HDL for short, is the good type of cholesterol. Think of HDL cholesterol as the cleaner in your blood. It travels through the bloodstream scooping up LDL cholesterol and carrying it back to the liver to be broken down and eliminated from the body. Higher levels of HDL in the body protects against cardiovascular disease. Low levels of HDL in your bloodstream increase your risk of heart disease.
Triglycerides are another type of fat found in your blood. When you take in more calories than your body can use, your body converts those calories into triglycerides and stores them in your fat cells. When your body needs energy, your body releases the triglycerides into the bloodstream.
Some foods that we eat are associated with higher levels of bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in our blood, especially diets high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and trans fats.
Women with high cholesterol or high triglycerides do not necessarily experience symptoms so it is important to be tested for your levels. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults over the age of 20 be tested for cholesterol and triglyceride levels every 4 to 6 years. This test is called a "lipid profile" or a "lipoprotein profile" and is a simple blood test.