Control blood pressure on a budget

We YOU docs don’t like to start with scary stuff, but this gave us a post-Halloween fright night: Deaths related to high blood pressure jumped after the recession settled in.

We YOU docs don’t like to start with scary stuff, but this gave us a post-Halloween fright night: Deaths related to high blood pressure jumped after the recession settled in.

People apparently started skipping blood pressure checks and meds because of financial worries.

Don’t let the economy do in your blood pressure. Stress, cheap-but-salty food, sleepless nights and penny-pinching on BP drugs send your risk of a heart attack and stroke up, up, up.

As it is, one in three adults now has this invisible killer. Another one in four is at high risk.

And hypertension now affects one in five 20- and 30-year-olds.

Think you can’t afford to fight off this threat? Actually, you (and your family) can’t afford not to.

Hypertension’s behind seven out of 10 first heart attacks and strokes. If you have one of these Big Bad Events, your family finances will be trashed — out-of-pocket medical costs alone could easily top $20,000.

We know money’s tight.

The trick is finding ways to control or prevent high blood pressure on a budget. You can do it. We can help.

Actually, managing BP can be a bargain. Start with daily exercise (a 30-minute walk is free). Then add these proven, not pricey, steps:

l Always ask about generic meds. They’re usually just as good as brand names and save a bundle.

Case in point: generic diuretics. At $25 to $40 a year (yep, a year), they’re flat-out cheap. These proven blood pressure drugs have been around since the days of poodle skirts and house calls, and they work at least as well as newer, far pricier ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers.

Your savings: A year’s worth of the newer meds can hit $600.

The bonus? Diuretics are linked to lower rates of stroke and heart failure.

That said, if the only blood pressure med that works well for you — it happens — is an expensive brand you can’t swing, contact the pharmaceutical company. All have programs to help.

l Make a (small) investment in a home blood-pressure monitor, then use it daily.

For around $20, you can get a perfectly fine home monitor at a big-box store.

We think these nifty devices are a must if you’re taking BP meds, especially if you’re just starting or switching.

Your ultimate goal: 115/75. Take a reading every morning and email your results daily or weekly to your doc.

You’ll both know how well it’s working, and whether you need a drug or dose change.

l Push sodium off your plate. Everyone could benefit from less-salty eating, not just people with hypertension. But the people who benefit most are “salt-sensitive types.” Are you one? Don’t guess.

Go low-salt for three weeks and compare your before-and-after readings on that home monitor. If your pressure has fallen 30/20 points, you are sensitive to salt, and you could see a huge BP drop by trading pretzels for walnuts, salt-sodden processed and fast foods for home-cooked chili, grilled chicken, baked sweet potatoes, salads galore and berries swirled into no-fat Greek yogurt. (The numbers on your scale will plummet, too.)

l Need more help? There’s a brilliant, drug-free plan for taming blood pressure called the DASH diet.

Mexican, Chinese, frittatas, pumpkin pie? You can have it. Just type “DASH diet” or “DASH diet recipes” into Google and knock yourself out.

Eating a la DASH can drop your BP by eight to 11 points and your heart attack or stroke risk by 18 per cent to 24 per cent.

Eat these three foods daily:

• Dark chocolate. An ounce a day could lower blood pressure enough to slash your heart attack risk by 20 per cent over five years. Its secret ingredient: artery-widening flavonols.

• Tomato sauce (no added sugar or salt). It’s as good for BP as chocolate.

• Blueberries. Regularly eating them lowers your risk of high blood pressure by 10 per cent. Credit potent plant substances called anthocyanins. Frozen are fine and affordable. Keep a bag in the freezer, thaw, toss on hot cereal, in yogurt. Yum.

The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz, host of The Dr. Oz Show and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic, are authors of YOU: Losing Weight. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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