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February 28th, 2019

Do you DASH?

By Dr. Audrey Baria

Diagnosed with high blood pressure in his 60s, a patient of mine decided to follow the DASH diet, with astounding results.

In about a year, he lost 100 pounds. That’s the equivalent of a two-month-old horse, or a tire for an 18-wheeler. The weight loss helped him get control of his blood pressure to the point he could safely stop taking his prescribed blood pressure medication.  

What is DASH? It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. DASH is a sensible eating plan that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, limited amounts of low-fat dairy and lean protein, and a restricted amount of sodium (salt).

Even if you have fewer, or no pounds, you want to lose, the DASH diet can help lower your blood pressure, which in turn will benefit your overall health.

Controlling high blood pressure is one of the most important things someone can do for their heart.  You’ve probably noticed that at every visit to your doctor, a medical assistant takes your blood pressure by putting a cuff around your upper arm and inflating it to take a reading.

This simple test is very important. If your blood pressure is not kept within a specific range you are at a higher risk of coronary artery disease, enlarged heart and stroke. The top number, called the systolic blood pressure reading, should be less than 120. The bottom number, called the diastolic blood pressure reading, should be less than 80. The numbers represent millimeters of mercury, which is the standard for blood pressure readings.

The American Heart Association recognizes five blood pressure ranges:

  • Normal – Less than 120 over 80
  • Elevated –  Between 120 and 129 over less than 80
  • Hypertension Stage 1 – Measurements consistently between 130 and 139 over 80 to 89
  • Hypertension Stage 2 – Measurements consistently 140 or higher over 90 or higher
  • Hypertensive Crisis — Higher than 180 over 120 mm (When measurements are taken two times, five minutes apart)
    • If you experience a reading this high with chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness or weakness, change in vision or difficulty speaking, call 9-1-1 immediately. You could be having a hypertensive crisis, which could lead to a stroke.

Depending on how high your blood pressure is, you doctor may put you on medication to lower it, even as you make lifestyle changes such as following DASH, lowering your salt intake and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. If you smoke, you should definitely talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.  

A healthy blood pressure is an important part of having a healthy heart. Make time to learn what your blood pressure is, and follow your doctor’s advice about how to treat it if it is too high.

Dr. Audrey Baria is a primary care physician at WellMed at 9th Ave North in St. Petersburg, Florida. She received her Medical Degree from Ross University School of Medicine in Portsmouth, Dominica and completed her residency at St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken, New Jersey. Dr. Baria is Board Certified in Family Medicine.