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February 2018

Here’s How Cold Weather Can Trigger a Heart Attack

By: Epoch

Chilling fact: Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. Although the life-threatening event can seem random, a study presented in August 2017 at the European Society of Cardiology Congress found that the average number of heart attacks per day was significantly higher during colder versus warmer temperatures.

Your heart needs oxygen-rich blood to function. A heart attack happens when a buildup of plaque — a mix of fat, cholesterol, and other substances — in your arteries breaks free. A blood clot forms around the plaque to either completely block or restrict blood flow to your heart. And freezing weather can ignite this painful process.

The Connection Between Your Ticker and Subzero Temps

“Cold weather, especially a very rapid change in the weather, is more likely to cause your blood vessels to constrict. If you have narrowing of the blood vessels already because of underlying heart disease and your blood vessels are constricted further, it restricts the amount of blood that’s getting to vital organs,” says Lawrence Phillips, MD, cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health in New York City. In other words, cold weather can make heart attack more likely to happen.

Instead of triggering a full-blown heart attack, cold weather can also just minimize blood flow to the heart, causing chest pain (angina), which is a symptom of coronary artery disease. This is the main form of heart disease, a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to heart attack.

In addition to coronary artery disease, cold weather can put a strain on your heart and circulatory system, affecting other forms of cardiovascular disease, too.

“If you have a diagnosis of heart failure or advanced valve disease, you have to be very careful when the weather changes to the colder side as well,” Dr. Phillips says.

Moreover, research presented in August 2015 at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in London showed that cold weather may also increase the risk of ischemic stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder. Ischemic stroke — the most common type of stroke — occurs when ruptured arterial plaque causes a blood clot to block a blood vessel to the brain, cutting off its much needed blood and oxygen supply.

Sudden bouts of energetic activity, such as rushing around to get out of the cold or shoveling snow, in combination with chilly temperatures can put additional strain on the blood vessels that feed your heart or brain. This puts you at greater risk of having a cardiovascular event, especially if you’re usually sedentary.

Symptoms of heart attack include uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in your chest (angina) or other areas of your body and shortness of breath.

Stroke symptoms to watch out for include facial drooping, especially on one side, arm weakness, and difficulty speaking.

Cold Weather Cures for Preventing Heart Attack and Stroke

The good news? If you’re an average healthy person, the cold weather won’t increase your risk of a cardiovascular event, such as heart attack, stroke, or angina. Trouble is, you can have underlying coronary artery disease — the clogged arteries (atherosclerosis) that are the underpinnings of a heart attack and stroke — and not even know it. Cardiovascular disease doesn’t always have signs or symptoms. So you might not even know you have it until you have a heart attack or stroke.

Here’s what to do to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, especially in cold weather.

Get a checkup. “As you’re gearing up for winter, make sure your health is optimized,” Phillips says. In other words, the start of winter is a good time for a routine physical to make sure your heart can take the cold. If you have a diagnosis of coronary artery disease, heart failure, or advanced valve disease, make sure to get the appropriate treatment and follow-up. You want to make sure your blood cholesterol and blood pressure are under control, too. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Cover your mouth. If you have heart disease, heart failure, or advanced valve disease, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf before going outside. “Wearing a scarf allows the air to naturally get warmed before it comes into your body,” Phillips says. “It won’t be such a shock to your body.”

Bundle up. To avoid getting too cold, which may increase the risk of heart attack, don’t forget to wear a hat, gloves, and multiple layers, which can help you stay warm by trapping air and body heat. But don’t overdo it. If you get hot, take off a layer. And remember to stay well hydrated.

Know your body. If you notice heart-related symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling winded, or fluttering in your chest, see your doctor. “If something feels different than normal, don’t ignore it. Get evaluated,” Phillips says. Similarly, if you’re having chest pain at rest, and it’s a new symptom, you need an immediate evaluation. Call 911. “Never drive yourself to the emergency department,” he says.

Don’t let snow-shoveling kick off your workout. “If you haven’t been exercising regularly, snow shoveling isn’t the best idea,” Phillips says. Because snow can be heavy, shoveling may be a lot more physical activity than you’re used to, which can put a strain on your heart. Anybody with a chronic medical condition, not just heart disease, should talk to their doctor about whether snow shoveling is a good idea. “I tell my patients with underlying heart disease not to shovel snow,” Phillips says. “But they can use a snow blower.”

Get a flu shot. A study published in October 2013 in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that a flu shot was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events; getting a flu shot may reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. Likewise, reduce your chances of getting the flu by staying away from people who are sick, washing your hands with soap and water often, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Source: Every Day Health

Author: Sandra Gordon



February 2018

5 Stroke Signs: Knowing Them Could Save Someone’s Life

By: Epoch

A stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or bursts, and it stems from a cardiovascular condition such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation.

Time to medical treatment matters. A lot.

It can mean the difference between a person being able to walk and go home versus needing to move to a nursing home, says neurologist Shazam Hussain, MD, Director of the Cerebrovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic.

“Every minute in a situation of an acute stroke, you lose about two million brain cells and so it’s really a situation where every minute counts,” Dr. Hussain says.

The sooner you recognize the signs of a stroke and get someone to the hospital, the greater the chances of reducing the risk of disability and death.

Many of us wouldn’t recognize the signs of stroke. Fortunately, there’s a simple acronym to help:

BE FAST: Easy to remember, too important to forget

Look for these signs and act:

Balance — Loss of balance

Eyes — Changes in vision

Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech Difficulty – Is the person’s speech slurred? Is he or she unable to speak or difficult to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as, “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

Time to call 911 – If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get him or her to the hospital immediately.

Awareness can make the difference

Increasing awareness about the warning signs of stroke and critical response steps could lead to happier endings for more stroke victims.

“There is much that can be done in the first hours after identifying a stroke to help improve blood flow to the brain and impact recovery,” Dr. Hussain says.

Risk factors for stroke

Strokes and cardiovascular disease share many risk factors:

  • Excess weight — Obesity can lead to heart disease and high cholesterol, which can lead to a stroke.
  • Heart problems — Strokes are six times more likely to occur in people with cardiovascular disease. Atrial fibrillation, one of the most common heart rhythm problems, increases your risk of stroke by about 5 times.
  • High blood pressure — Strokes are four to six times more likely in people with hypertension.
  • High cholesterol — People with high cholesterol are at double the risk of having a stroke.
  • Heavy drinking — This increases the risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease.
  • Smoking — If you smoke, you double your risk for stroke compared to nonsmokers.

Some people will actually experience warning signs before a stroke occurs, which is called an ischemic attack, or a mini stroke.

It’s important to get regular checkups and report any symptoms or risk factors to your doctor. A doctor can help evaluate your risk for developing stroke and help you get any risk factors under control.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

Author: The Brain and Spine Team



February 2018

All Those Late Nights at the Office Might Be Taking a Big Toll on Your Heart

By: Epoch

It’s no secret that working long hours can take a toll on employees’ moods, stress levels, and even their waistlines. Now, a new study suggests a hidden heart danger, as well: People who put in more than 55 hours a week on the job may have an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation—an irregular heart rhythm linked to stroke and other health problems—compared to those who work 40 hours or less.

The new analysis, published in the European Heart Journal and led by University College London researchers, combined data from eight previous studies including more than 85,000 men and women from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. None of the participants had atrial fibrillation (also known as AFib) at the study’s start, but 1,061 people developed it over the next 10 years.

Those numbers were equivalent to 12.4 AFib cases per 1,000 people in the study. But when the researchers looked specifically at those working 55 hours a week or more, that rate jumped to 17.6 per 1,000 cases.

In other words, those who worked the most were 40% more likely to developing AFib, compared to those who worked 35 to 40 hours a week—even after the results were adjusted for factors such as age, gender, obesity, socioeconomic status, smoking status, risky alcohol use, and leisure-time physical activity.

What’s more, 90% of those cases occurred in people who did not already have cardiovascular disease—suggesting that it really was the excess time at work, and not any pre-existing condition, that was responsible for the rise in AFib.

The authors point out that a 40% increased risk of AFib may not be a big deal, depending on how high a person’s overall risk for heart disease already is. “In absolute terms, the increased risk of atrial fibrillation among individuals with long working hours is relatively modest,” they wrote. But for someone who already has several risk factors (like being older, male, diabetic, or a smoker, for example), any added risk could be important.

The researchers can’t say how, exactly, extra time on the job might trigger irregular heart rhythms. But they suspect that stress and exhaustion may play a role, making the cardiovascular and autonomic nervous systems more vulnerable to abnormalities.

They also say their finding could help explain, at least partially, why people who work long hours have been shown to have an increased risk of stroke. ( AFib is known to contribute to the development of stroke, as well as heart failure, stroke-related dementia, and other serious health problems.)

The study did have some major limitations, including the fact that work hours were only recorded at one point in time, and that people’s specific occupations were not included in the analysis. In an accompanying editorial, researchers at St. Antonius Hospital in The Netherlands noted how these factors may have influenced the findings.

“It is conceivable that job strain and night shifts may be more frequent in the long working hours group, which in turn may have confounded the risk association,” the editorial authors wrote.

Physically demanding work could also contribute to an increased risk of AFib and other heart problems, but the editorial writers point out that manual labor jobs are often well regulated so workers don't put in more than 55 hours a week. “It is often in higher management jobs and self-employed businesses that there is no constraint on working hours,” they wrote in the editorial, “and mental stress may be more important than direct physical demand.”

The editorial also notes that none of the original studies included in the new analysis had statistically significant results on their own—likely because of their limited sizes. Only when all of the data was combined did a meaningful pattern emerge.

“[T]he authors should be congratulated for the impressive collaborative effort required to integrate patient level data from multiple studies to increase the power,” they wrote. However, they added, the study is still not able to draw definitive conclusions as to whether working long hours is an independent risk factor for AFib.

The study authors acknowledge these shortcomings, but still believe that their findings “raise the hypothesis that long working hours may affect the risk of atrial fibrillation,” they wrote in their conclusion. More research is needed, they say, to determine why this could be the case, and whether their findings would apply to other groups of people.

Of course, there are other ways that working overtime can be hazardous to your health, regardless of whether these findings are confirmed in future studies. In a 2016 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, people who worked 60 or more hours a week had higher rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis, compared to those who worked 30 to 40. Some increased health risks were observed in both genders, but the effects were “tremendously more evident in women,” the study authors said.





February 2018

Coffee's Health Perks May Be Strongest for People Over 45

By: Epoch



Adults who drank four cups of coffee a day had a 64% lower risk of dying during a new 10-year Spanish study, compared to those who rarely or never drank the beverage. The link between coffee and reduced mortality risk was strongest for people over 45, the authors say, suggesting that the drink’s protective elements are even more important in older age.

The new research, presented Sunday at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona, has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Previous studies have suggested that coffee consumption reduces the risk of early death from all causes, but this provided some additional insights into how coffee might affect people of different ages.

For the study, researchers analyzed health data and food-frequency questionnaires from nearly 20,000 Spanish university graduates who were involved in a long-term research project and followed for an average of 10 years.

Those who drank the most coffee (four or more cups a day) were 64% less likely to die during the study than those who drank the least (seldom or never) coffee. Overall, every two cups of coffee people consumed per day was associated with a 22% lower risk of death over 10 years.

That association remained even when the researchers controlled for factors including gender, smoking status, and whether the coffee drinkers added sugar to their coffee.

When the researchers looked at different age groups, they also found that the benefits were largely confined to older participants: For adults who were at least 45 when the study began, every two cups of coffee per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of dying over the next 10 years. In those younger than 45, there was no significant effect in either lowering or increasing mortality.

The study could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between coffee consumption and mortality rates. Lead author Dr. Adela Navarro, a cardiologist at Hospital de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, says the results do, however, suggest that coffee may have a stronger protective effect among older adults. Drinking four cups of coffee a day “can be part of a healthy diet in healthy people,” she says. That endorsement echoes a similar conclusion published in Food and Chemical Toxicology earlier this year, which found that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (about four 8-ounce cups of coffee) is safe for most people.

Two studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in July also found that regular coffee consumption was associated with a reduced risk of death—one in a U.S. population that included African-American, Japanese-Americans, Latino, and white participants, and one in a European population spanning 10 countries.

What components in coffee could be contributing to longevity in older people? “Besides caffeine, coffee contains several bioactive compounds with potential beneficial properties,” Navarro said Sunday during her presentation—including compounds that are known to fight inflammation, a common contributor to age-related health problems. And because of coffee’s popularity around the world, she added, “even a small health effect could have important public health consequences.”


Author: Amanda Macmillan



February 2018

Why Stress Makes You More Likely to Have a Heart Attack

By: Epoch


Stress might seem like an unavoidable reality of modern life, but your body isn’t as quick to write it off as such: in fact, being stressed takes a serious—and lasting—toll on your life, and according to a growing number of studies, it also increases your risk of heart disease.

Now, according to a new years-long study published in The Lancet, scientists report that having a more active amygdala—the brain region triggered during moments of stress—is linked to a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

In the study, 293 people without heart problems were given a PET/CT scan to measure brain activity, bone marrow activity and inflammation of the arteries. These three areas interact in important ways in animal models, says study author and cardiologist Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, co-director of the Cardiac MR PET CT Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Stress, it seems, triggers the amygdala, which then activates bone marrow and inflammation of arteries.

Scientists don’t yet know whether the same is true for humans. But if it were, then people with the most active amygdalas would be the ones with the highest risk of heart attack and strokes. That’s exactly what Tawakol and his team found almost four years later when they followed up. In people with more active amygdalas, these bad heart events also seemed to happen sooner. They also had increased bone marrow activity and inflammation in the arteries.

You may not even need a brain scan to find out your true stress levels. In a small separate study, the researchers asked 13 people with higher-than-usual stress to rate how stressed they generally felt using a psychological questionnaire. “We found that their perception of stress nicely related to activity in their amygdala,” Tawakol says. Those who said they were the most stressed really had the most active amygdalae. The researchers also found that a person’s perceived stress was related to their levels of inflammation.

The study is purely observational and needs to be substantiated in larger trials. But this intriguing new pathway for how stress may take a toll on the heart presents a powerful case for stress relief. “So far, it appears that things like mindfulness and other stress reduction approaches seem to really nicely tamp down on the amygdala, and they appear to even cause benefits in other areas of the brain,” says Tawakol.

“When I talk to my patients, I tell them that we’re learning that diet, exercise, and stress reduction are some of our most compelling tools—it’s a little humbling,” he adds. “Even though it’s unsexy and doesn’t really show the best technology that we have to offer our patients, at the end it is probably the best advice.”


By: Mandy Oaklander



February 2018

7 Numbers You Should Know for Your Heart

By: Epoch


One in every four deaths in the U.S. is due to heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—in other words, taking care of this all-important organ should be a top priority for everyone. But how do you know if you’re at risk for heart disease? It all comes back to seven critical numbers that can serve as major clues to your health.

One of the most important factors to keep in mind is your body’s fat composition. That is, women should keep their waist circumference—which is a measure of belly fat—under 35 inches, since excess weight around the middle increases one’s chances of developing heart disease.

It’s also important to keep your body mass index, or BMI, in check. BMI is a measure of your body fat in relation to your height and weight. It’s best to keep the ratio below 25, at which point a person is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. As with most health conditions we want to avoid, being overweight heightens your risk of heart disease, since extra pounds work to strain the heart muscle even more and increase both blood pressure and cholesterol levels, too.

Other important numbers that can provide insight into whether or not you’re at risk for heart disease down the line include your blood pressure levels and how low or high your LDLs (aka “bad” cholesterol) and HDLs (aka “good” cholesterol) levels are.

Want to learn more about the numbers that can help keep your heart healthy? In this video, we highlight the seven health stats that matter most for your heart disease risk, plus the range each one should be in.




February 2018

How the Apple Watch Could Change How We Treat Heart Disease

By: Epoch


The new Apple Watch Series 3 gives users more real-time information about their heart than ever, and Apple hopes that it will also be able to alert users to potentially concerning heart beat patterns.

The current version of the Apple Watch already tracks heart rate. But the newest version comes with cellular built in, which means it can record heart rate continuously anywhere you have service. That could provide valuable, instantly accessible data for detecting when things might be awry with your heart—if it’s racing too fast when you’re at rest, for example. You can also set the monitor to alert you if your heart rate gets too high during a workout or dips too low while at rest.

The new Apple Watch will also be able to track your heart’s recovery after a workout during the cool-down period, which heart experts say is a critical measure of how fit your heart is. “Recovery is an important metric,” says Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute. “It’s shown in many studies that if the heart rate recovery is slow, that suggests the heart condition is not ideal, and you need better conditioning. Providing that information is a new step forward for Apple.”

Apple will be paying close attention to the data the new watch generates. The company is working with heart experts at Stanford University to study and analyze the data; they’re hoping to come up with algorithms to interpret the heart rate patterns so they can distinguish the worrisome rhythms from the not-so-concerning ones.

Real-time heart rate information may prove to be a useful feature for people wearing the watch, Topol says, since about 1-2% of adults in the U.S. suffer from atrial fibrillation, or abnormal beating of the heart, and don’t know it. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) can be a precursor to stroke and other heart issues, so detecting consistent blips in heart rate could be a useful way to alert people at risk for these conditions that they should see a doctor sooner rather than later. (FitBit, which sells wristwatches with continuous heart rate monitoring, said last month that they were researching how their wristbands can help people with AFib identify their abnormal heart beats.)

Having a continuous heart-rate reading can also alert people to conditions like sleep apnea. Peaks in heart rate while asleep, which wearers can see when they peruse the data when they wake, could signal periods of low oxygen flow to the body that are the sign of sleep apnea. That information could be helpful for doctors in diagnosing the condition.

The Apple Watch—and other continuous heart rate monitors from companies like FitBit—still have a long way to go before they can diagnose a heart condition. But Topol anticipates that once more people are able to track their heart rate and doctors are able to learn from that data, watches and the data they collect may soon be as good as heart doctors at detecting when something goes wrong. Already, small studies show that more sophisticated trackers can pick up concerning abnormal heart rates. With time, Topol says, “they are going to be pretty darn accurate.”


By: Alice Park



February 2018

Ralphie May's Cause of Death Has Been Revealed. Here's What Young People Need to Know

By: Epoch

Two months after comedian Ralphie May was found dead in a Las Vegas private residence, the cause of his death has been revealed. May, 45, died from hypertensive cardiovascular disease, Clark County Coroner’s office confirmed today to People.

On October 6, the day May’s body was discovered, May’s manager said in a statement that theLast Comic Standing star had been battling pneumonia and had canceled several recent tour dates in an effort to recover. The coroner’s new diagnosis, however, sheds more light on the underlying cause of May’s health problems, as well as his untimely death.

It can also serve as a reminder that hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) and heart disease can affect people of all ages—and that, if left untreated, they can be deadly, even for people in their 40s or younger.

To learn more about these risks, Health spoke with Brandy Patterson, MD, an assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Virginia. Dr. Patterson did not treat May, but she does have many other patients, including young adults, with high blood pressure and heart disease. Here’s what she wants everyone to know about these conditions, including who’s most at risk and how you can protect yourself.

Hypertension and heart disease are different, but related

Hypertensive cardiovascular disease, which May was diagnosed with after his death, is a broad term that could mean a few different things, says Dr. Patterson. Over time, high blood pressure can lead to heart or vascular disease in several different ways: It can cause hardening of the arteries or a thickening of the heart muscle itself. It can also cause the heart’s chambers to become dilated, which keeps it from pumping blood and oxygen effectively.

“All of these things make it harder for the heart to work and can lead to heart failure,” says Dr. Patterson. Clogged arteries can also trigger blood clots, she adds, which can block the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. “If the heart muscle is starved of nutrients, that can trigger a heart attack or even death.”

There’s good reason hypertension is called the “silent killer”

Blood pressure, simply put, is the amount of force on the walls of your arteries by the blood flowing through them. If blood pressure gets too high, it strains the walls of the arteries—which can lead to thickening—and puts excess pressure on the heart.

But one big problem, says Dr. Patterson, is that blood pressure isn’t something people can feel on a day-to-day basis. “Nobody feels the force of blood against their artery walls,” she says, “so it’s possible to have no idea this is going on for a long time, until your organs and your heart have been badly damaged.”

Once damage to the heart becomes severe, people may begin to have symptoms, like chest pain or trouble breathing while walking or lying down. High blood pressure can also damage other organs, like the kidneys, leading to swelling and rapid weight gain due to fluid retention. It’s possible, though, for this type of damage to build up over years of high blood pressure without any symptoms at all, or for a sudden event like a heart attack or stroke to occur with no warning at all.

Nearly half of American adults now have hypertension

Just weeks after May’s death, an announcement from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology highlighted the fact that high blood pressure is not just an issue for older people. Under new guidelines issued in November, the threshold for high blood pressure is now 130/80, down from the previous level of 140/90.

That means that about 103 million Americans—about 46% of the adult population—now meet the criteria for high blood pressure, which should be monitored and treated by a doctor. “The number of men under 55 with hypertension is now triple under these new guidelines, and the number of women under 55 is now double,” says Dr. Patterson.

Diet, exercise, weight, and stress levels affect a person’s risk

Dr. Patterson says physicians are seeing more and more people under the age of 55 with high blood pressure and heart disease, and it’s not just because of changing medical definitions. America’s ongoing obesity epidemic also plays a large role. (May once described himself as a “comedian who happens to be fat,” and he occasionally referenced his weight in his stand-up routines.)

A family history, lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking, and heavy alcohol use are also risk factors for both high blood pressure and heart disease, says Dr. Patterson. “And let’s not forget about stress, which changes the neurotransmitters in the brain and triggers the adrenal glands to produce hormones that increase blood pressure,” she says. “Think about what a comedian does every night: He’s up on stage and everyone’s laughing, but is it stressful? I would imagine so.”

Know your blood pressure, and your risk factors

May’s death should be a wake-up call to anyone who hasn’t seen a doctor in recent years or doesn’t know their own blood pressure—especially if they have any of the risk factors above, says Dr. Patterson. When caught early, high blood pressure can be treated and managed with medications and lifestyle changes, and many adults with high blood pressure can live long and healthy lives.

Without treatment, however, high blood pressure can wreak havoc throughout the body, she says. “We should be checking patients with risk factors as early as possible,” says Dr. Patterson, “because the damage can start as early as adolescence, and it’s important to address these problems sooner rather than later.”


By: Amanda MacMillan





February 2018

How to lower your blood pressure naturally

By: Epoch

What is high blood pressure?

Nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure, according to new guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology. The guidelines, published in Hypertension, lower the threshold for what's considered high blood pressure from 140/80 mmHg to 130/80 mmHg. (Anything under 120/80 mmHg is considered normal blood pressure.) That change means about 14% more U.S. adults have high blood pressure than previously thought–and are now likely wondering how to lower their blood pressure.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can be caused by lifestyle factors or by genetics—or, usually, a combination of both. It can be dangerous if left untreated, raising your risk for heart attack and stroke.

For people who aren't able to bring their levels down naturally, blood pressure medication may be necessary. Of the 14% of Americans now considered to have high blood pressure, around one in five will need to be treated with meds, according to the AHA. But if your high blood pressure is a result of unhealthy habits, making some simple changes may help reduce—or even eliminate—your need for prescription drugs. With your doctor’s okay, give these home remedies for high blood pressure a try and see if they work for you.

Maintain a healthy weight

“Weight is one of the most important determiners of blood pressure,” says John Bisognano, MD, director of the Hypertension Clinic at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. “Once someone’s BMI is over 25 to 28, taking off a few pounds will make a big difference in treating high blood pressure.” (A body mass index of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while 30 and higher is obese.)

The correlation works both ways, too: A small 2014 study found that people who gained even just 5% of their body weight saw slight boosts in their blood pressure. People who packed on extra fat around their bellies saw the greatest increases.

Break a sweat

Most healthy people should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. If you need to lower your blood pressure, though, the American Heart Association has some additional advice: Within that 150 minutes, aim to get 40 minutes of higher-intensity (moderate to vigorous) activity three or four times a week. “It really can be anything that makes you break a sweat, but the important thing is that it’s something you can do most days, without fail,” says, Dr. Bisognano, who is also the president elect of the American Society for Hypertension. “If you want to go to the gym for an hour a day and run or take classes, fantastic. But if a brisk walk around the neighborhood fits your lifestyle better, than that’s great too.”

If you’re starting from scratch and even this level of fitness seems intimidating, take heart. Even just a few minutes a day of easy exercise helped to lower blood pressure in a 2015 study of overweight adults with diabetes.

Cut back on salt

Most Americans—including 86% of those with high blood pressure—eat more salt than is advised by the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If you’re one of them, reducing your intake to less than the recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoon) a day may make a big difference in your blood pressure (and even better if you can stay below the American Heart Association's 1,500-mg daily limit). Even just reducing your sodium intake by 10 or 20% can help, says Dr. Bisognano. “We ask people to decrease their consumption from sky-high to reasonable levels,” he adds. “Learn not to salt your eggs; finish your lunch without a pickle—you want to make little changes you can tolerate for the long term.”

Follow the DASH Diet

For an even bigger impact on blood pressure levels, try the DASH Diet, also known as Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension. You’ll lower your salt intake on this plan, but you’ll also eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat diary products. “The DASH Diet can lower the top number—systolic pressure—anywhere from 8 to 14 points,” says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Women’s Heart Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “The diet is high in foods that have calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants, all of which contribute to lowering blood pressure.” It's also rich in potassium, which can help blunt the impact of any sodium you consume.

Power up your probiotics

In a 2014 review of previous studies, people who consumed probiotics—healthy bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods—saw their systolic blood pressure reduced an average of 3.6 points, and their diastolic reduced 2.4 points, compared to those who didn’t. Those with blood pressure higher than 130/85 experienced the greatest reductions, along with those who took probiotic supplements or ate probiotic foods for longer than two months. (Any blood pressure over 120/80 mm Hg is considered elevated.) Experts say any effect probiotics have on blood pressure is likely modest, but that they may play a role in an overall heart-healthy lifestyle.

Eat out less often

Americans eat too much salt in large part because restaurants add so much of it to their cooking, according to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This can be confusing even to customers who try to make smart choices, since high-sodium foods don’t always taste salty. In order to see a big impact on American salt consumption, restaurants will have to commit to using less, the CDC’s report stated. Until then, says Dr. Goldberg, try to cook more of your own food so you’re aware of how much salt goes into it. When you do eat out, she suggests, skip salty toppings like cheese, and order dressings and sauces on the side.

Monitor your numbers at home

The act of taking your own blood pressure won’t lower it, but getting to know your numbers can help you better understand what’s healthy and what’s not for you. “The first time patients have a high blood pressure reading in the doctor’s office, we don’t usually start treating right way,” says Dr. Goldberg. That’s because individual readings can vary, especially in potentially high-stress situations like a doctor’s visit.

Dr. Goldberg teaches these patients to monitor their blood pressure at home in the mornings and evenings. This gives her a more complete picture before prescribing any medications. But there’s a hidden benefit, as well: Research suggests that keeping track of their own blood pressure may be incentive for patients to make healthy choices like losing weight and eating healthier.

Stop smoking

After a cigarette break, blood pressure rises for a short time. Interestingly—and even though it’s bad for your heart in other ways—it doesn’t seem to raise levels very much in the long-term. But besides those temporary spikes, there’s another reason to kick the habit: Smoking dulls taste buds, says Dr. Bisognano, so smokers tend to salt their food more and have a harder time decreasing sodium intake.

Cut your calorie intake

One simple way to reduce your salt intake may just be to reduce your overall food intake. “If you eat 25% more food, you’re likely getting 25% more salt,” says Dr. Bisognano. “Plus, eating more food than you need will probably make you gain weight, which also raises blood pressure.”

The smartest thing to cut out first? Processed foods. More than 75% percent of sodium in the average American diet comes from packaged products like canned soups, salad dressings, bread and cereal, and cold cuts and cured meats.

Find a way to relax

Stress can cause blood pressure to rise, both short- and long-term. So finding something that helps you relax can be an important part of preventing or reducing hypertension. What that something is, exactly, is up to you—but research suggests that yoga, meditation, spending time with pets, laughing, and even having sex (!) may be good choices. “Just like with exercise, you have to choose something that you enjoy and that you can do consistently as part of your daily lifestyle,” says Dr. Bisognano.

Add strength training to your gym routine

Aerobic exercise will have the biggest effect on your blood pressure, but you’ll get even bigger benefits if you combine your regular sweat sessions with a few weight-lifting or resistance-training workouts a week.

It was once thought that weightlifting could actually raise blood pressure to dangerous levels—and it can, in fact, cause short-term spikes. But now doctors know that having stronger muscles, in the long run, reduces stress and demand on the heart.

Don't overdo your drinking

Moderate alcohol consumption—up to one drink a day for women and two for men—may have beneficial effects on blood pressure. “But any more than that seems to do just the opposite,” says Dr. Goldberg. “We know that heavy drinking raises blood pressure, in addition to increasing your risk for other chronic conditions.”

This shouldn’t just be a concern for older adults or people who already have high blood pressure, either. A 2016 study found that 20-somethings who regularly binge drink were more likely than their moderately drinking peers to have prehypertension—a condition that can progress to full-blown hypertension.

Watch your coffee habit

“Moderate coffee intake doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in blood pressure levels,” says Dr. Bisognano, “but I do see more and more people drinking huge amounts of highly caffeinated beverages—and that very likely has a negative effect.” A few cups of coffee a day is fine for most people, he adds, but “if you measure coffee in pots, you could be in trouble.” Watch out for energy drinks, too, which have been shown to spike blood pressure and cause irregular heart rhythms.

Get outdoors

Low levels of vitamin D—which the body gets from fortified foods, supplements, or the skin’s exposure to sunlight—have been linked to high blood pressure. But most research has found that taking supplements doesn't seem to help. Dr. Bisognano says the jury’s still out on how the two are linked. “I have found that people with extremely low vitamin D levels can have high blood pressure that’s more difficult to treat,” he says, “but I can’t be sure whether that’s the driving issue.”

There are other reasons you may want to spend more time in the great outdoors, though. A 2014 study found that when the skin is exposed to sunlight, a chemical reaction causes blood vessels to widenand blood pressure to drop. And in a 2010 study, people who spent time in nature—walking in the forest as opposed to in an urban environment—saw greater reductions in their blood pressure, pulse rate, and stress hormones.

Get better sleep

If you’re not getting enough shuteye—either because you’re burning the midnight oil or you’re dealing with a sleep disorder—you may be at greater risk for high blood pressure. That makes sense, says Dr. Goldberg: People who are sleep deprived are more likely to overeat, crave junk food, gain weight, and feel stressed.

In one 2009 study, every hour less of average sleep duration per night was associated with a 37% increase in the odds of developing hypertension over five years. In another report from 2015, people with sleep apnea—a dangerous condition that can cause hypertension in itself—saw reductions in their blood pressure when they were treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines or mandibular advancement devices (MADs).

Try acupuncture

Acupuncture might help lower blood pressure, according to a small 2015 study, though the authors say more research is needed to know for sure. Participants had 30 minutes a week of electroacupuncture—in which the needles carry low-level electrical currents—for eight weeks, focusing on their inner wrists and their legs below their knees.

This group saw reductions of 6 to 8 points for systolic blood pressure and 4 points for diastolic blood pressure, compared to another group whose treatment focused on other body parts and who saw no change. Some participants saw further drops when they followed up with monthly treatments for six more months.

Lend a helping hand

Being generous with your time, money, or your talents can do more than make you feel good; a 2006 study found that people who gave social support to those in their social networks had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.

Other research shows that volunteering and helping others can lower stress levels and boost happiness, which may have long-term effects on your blood pressure, as well.

Take a nap

Napping may do your heart some good. Adults with high blood pressure who took hour-long naps every day saw their systolic blood pressure drop an average of 5% over the course of the day in a 2015 study, compared to those who didn’t rest. Those who napped also had to take fewer blood pressure medications than those who didn’t, and seemed to have less damage to their arteries and their heart. The study was only able to show a correlation between napping and blood pressure reduction, but the authors say that the results do suggest a benefit to afternoon siestas.

Consider other health issues

“Go over your medical history and any drugs and supplements you’re taking with your doctor,” says Dr. Goldberg. “Sometimes you can be on medicines that raise your blood pressure, or you can have an underlying condition—like a thyroid imbalance or a kidney obstruction—that needs to be treated.”

Drugs that can cause hypertension include acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), antidepressants, corticosteroids, birth control pills and other hormones, migraine medications, nasal decongestants, and over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. Don’t stop taking a medicine without talking with your doctor first; you may be able to take a replacement or adjust your dosage.

Get friends and family on board

Need help enforcing these lifestyle strategies? Tell friends, family, and coworkers that you’re working hard to keep your blood pressure or your weight down, and ask them for your support.

“When you let people know that these goals are important to your health, most of the time they’ll go along with it,” says Dr. Bisognano. “They won’t pressure you to eat a third piece of pizza or to accept a special pie they baked just for you.” You may even encourage to adopt healthy habits, too!


By: Amanda MacMillan