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Diabetes and High Blood Pressure 101

Learn what having high blood pressure means, and how to help control it through lifestyle choices.

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People with diabetes are at increased risk for high blood pressure, because having diabetes can damage your blood vessels and make it harder for blood to flow through them. When your heart has to pump harder to send blood through your blood vessels, your blood pressure goes up. Think of a garden hose: it takes more pressure to squirt water through a hose that is pinched or creased than it does to send water through a perfectly round garden hose.

Having diabetes doesn't mean that you are automatically destined for high blood pressure, but it’s smart to learn what’s a healthy blood pressure level for someone with diabetes so you can keep an eye on your own numbers.

When you understand more about blood pressure and diabetes, you may be more motivated to make small lifestyle changes to help manage your blood pressure. Use these tips to get on track with a healthy lifestyle to help control your blood pressure.

Understand what the numbers mean. Blood pressure is how forcefully your blood moves through your blood vessels. If the blood moves with excessive force because your arteries are blocked or have narrowed, your blood pressure is higher and your heart has to work harder, which increases your risk for heart disease and for a heart attack or a stroke.

When your doctor takes your blood pressure and says "130 over 80," here's what he or she means: The first number, 130, refers to systolic pressure, or the pressure or resistance inside the blood vessels when the heart contracts. The second number, 80, refers to diastolic pressure, or the pressure or resistance inside the blood vessels when the heart relaxes, in between beats. The unit mmHg stands for millimeters of mercury—the standard unit of measure for blood pressure.

Be aware of the increased risks for people with diabetes. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases your risk for a heart attack or stroke regardless of whether you have diabetes. However, since too much glucose in the blood can damage blood vessels, people with diabetes are likely to be at a higher risk for hypertension. To allow for this additional risk, the recommended blood pressure for people with diabetes is different from that recommended for the general public.

Keep track of your numbers and know the risk factors. There are no obvious symptoms of high blood pressure; the only way to know whether you have it is to see your doctor regularly and have your blood pressure checked. In addition to having diabetes, other risk factors for high blood pressure include eating a high-fat, high-salt diet, smoking, being overweight, high levels of stress, caffeine intake, not exercising and having a family history of high blood pressure.

Make healthy choices to keep your blood pressure in check. Eating a healthful diet may offer benefits for your blood pressure. And even simple changes might make a difference. Try adding pepper or fresh herbs to your food instead of salt, or swap out high-sodium prepared foods for simple recipes you can make at home. Generous servings of fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products are also part of a healthful diet, along with plenty of whole grains.

Also, regular exercise is important to strengthen your heart and minimize your risk of developing high blood pressure. If you exercise regularly, keep it up! If not, aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. If you have not previously been active, start with shorter periods of activity and work your way up to longer periods, based on your doctor's advice. Try incorporating easy exercises into your everyday routine, such as parking farther away when you go to the store.

Before any strenuous physical activity, be sure to talk to your doctor.

By EatingWell.com. © Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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