For the week of: 1/12/98

Question: "I was diagnosed with high blood pressure last November, (1996). I am taking a prescribed medication. My question? Why do I have high blood pressure? I am female, 4 foot-9 inches tall, weigh 125 lbs., exercise regularly, and don't understand why? I do smoke and drink moderately. High blood pressure does run in my family, but everyone is overweight and I assumed that is the reason they have high blood pressure".

Peter D. Kuhlman, M.D.

Answer: In response to your question about high blood pressure, this is unfortunately a very difficult question to answer.

High blood pressure is related to many things. Based on your description, it is wonderful that you exercise frequently. Being 4' 9" and 125 lbs. probably suggests that you are overweight. I am not saying that this is the only reason you are hypertensive, but it could contribute.

I realize this is a tough problem to tackle, but I would strongly encourage you to gradually work down to your ideal body weight. This will help somewhat. I realize your weight may not have changed in the last few years but for some reason, we see this. People often say, "well, my weight has been the same for years, why am I getting high blood pressure?" Trust me, if you can work on getting your weight down, the blood pressure will improve.

Another thing that is probably contributing is that you drink moderately. Alcohol definitely can be linked to hypertension. If you could stop drinking alcoholic beverages or just cut them down to an occasional social drink that would be good.

One of the best things you can do is exercise regularly which you seem to be doing.

Another thing to consider is your diet. If you eat out at restaurants a lot, that definitely will give you an excess amount of sodium intake. Sodium intake is also directly related to your blood pressure. Everyone in this country should be on a low salt diet. In our Western civilized culture, we get enormous amounts of salt. Try to limit your "dining out". Particularly, avoid fast food restaurants and avoid all of the snack foods. "Junk foods" are probably the worst ones and are usually very high in salt. Obviously avoid the chips and pretzels and peanuts that are salted.

A lot of this is just common sense, but believe it or not, a lot of people do not understand this. I would also recommend that you contact your family doctor for some general information on a low salt diet. There are a number of foods that inherently are loaded with sodium that a lot of people are not aware of. Such things as ketchup and pickles and things like that.

Another factor that contributes to your blood pressure is your family history. Obviously, there is nothing you can do about that but if you work on these other things, it is very possible that you can markedly improve your blood pressure.

High blood pressure unfortunately is a multifactorial problem very much related to the things we discussed above.

I am sure you can make these changes, and good luck.

Peter D. Kuhlman, M.D.

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