Healthy Lifestyle Changes Can Save Your Life

Blood Pressure Demands the 3 C’s: Check, Change, Control.

BY JON CASWELL

 

When it comes to blood pressure, what you don’t know can definitely hurt you. Many of the 80 million American adults who have it don’t know they have it. It has no symptoms. It can only be reliably diagnosed by a healthcare professional using a blood pressure monitor. Once diagnosed, it can’t be cured; but it can be controlled, which requires daily attention. It’s rampant among African-Americans. Left undiagnosed, it can lead to strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure.

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Based on the premise that “healthier blood pressure sometimes takes a community,” the American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association created the Check. Change. Control. program. It uses health mentors to help people with high blood pressure do what they need to do to control it — eat right, be active, visit their doctor and take their medication. The mentors are local volunteers, sometimes family members, who are trained to encourage participants to monitor their blood pressure and stay consistent with their plan for controlling it.

If you don’t know your blood pressure, you can get it checked at no cost in many pharmacies, healthcare facilities and fire stations. And checking it once is not enough because blood pressure increases with age. If your blood pressure is above 120/80 mm Hg, the American Heart Association recommends getting your blood pressure checked by a doctor at least once every two years starting at age 20.

In addition to personal contact, the Check. Change. Control. program uses Heart360, which is a web-based tool to help track blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, physical activity and medication. It also makes suggestions about action plans, and helps participants connect with healthcare providers and mentors to share progress. Heart360 is like a personal hub that pulls together all the information you need for you and your doctor to be actively working to reach — and keep — your blood pressure at a healthy level.

Check. Change. Control. is based on research led by Dr. Kevin L. Thomas of Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Thomas used a multipronged approach to reduce blood pressure among a group of patients of different ages, ethnicities and genders. This approach was used with 1,756 people, 75 percent of whom were African-American, grouped by the severity of their high blood pressure. Those with the lowest blood pressure levels (below 140/90) received the lowest level of intervention, a bimonthly automated reminder to enter their blood pressure measurements into Heart360. Those in the middle group (with a reading between 140/90 and 159/99) used Heart360 in addition to receiving lifestyle counseling and medication evaluation from physician assistants. Those with the highest blood pressure levels (above 159/99) received the most hands-on follow-up. In addition to the interventions in the other categories, this included an assigned community health coach who conducted home visits. These interventions increased the number of participants with healthy blood pressure by 12 percent. That’s about 210 people in six months who brought their blood pressure down to less than 140/90.

Because of this success, the AHA provided grants to 18 healthcare markets in 2012 to create pilot programs. Now, the Check. Change. Control. program has 90 programs in 60 markets, including Los Angeles, Houston and Philadelphia. As of June 2014, there were 20,720 people enrolled.

Knowing your numbers, reducing them if necessary and maintaining your program can help you avert catastrophic outcomes caused by high blood pressure. Sometimes, controlling it takes a community.

Enroll in Check. Change. Control.

If your community does not have Check. Change. Control. yet, don’t let that stop you from discovering and monitoring your blood pressure numbers. You can get your numbers at no cost at many places in your community, and you can enroll yourself in Heart360. AHA has extensive blood pressure information online.

Your blood pressure is serious business, so get serious about it.

Kenneth Mathews describes things he has done to live a healthier life.

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