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A Guide to Heart Health

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If You Have Hypertension...

Two blood pressure readings over 120/80 mmHg, two weeks apart—to make sure it's not just nerves—will get you a diagnosis of prehypertension, says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, director of the division of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke—untreated, the risk is raised two to six times. But even prehypertension (what used to be called "high normal") can quadruple a woman's risk of developing heart disease. Most of the individual hypertension medications out there lower blood pressure about 10% to 15%. But because the majority of people need to drop theirs further to get out of the danger zone, it's not unusual to be taking two or more. Each med works on blood vessels in different ways. Will you be taking these drugs forever? Doctors say that largely depends on you. For instance, following the DASH diet (an eating plan rich in fruits and vegetables, and low- or nonfat dairy; dashdiet.org) and being exceptionally strict about your salt intake (no more than a teaspoon daily) lowers blood pressure as effectively as any single hypertension medication.