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Silent Killer: 5 reasons to take a second look at your blood pressure

Published: Monday, November 27, 2017 @ 12:11 PM

FILE - In this June 6, 2013, file photo, a patient has her blood pressure checked by a registered nurse in Plainfield, Vt. New medical guidelines announced Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, lower the threshold for high blood pressure, adding 30 million Americans to those who have the condition.
AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File
FILE - In this June 6, 2013, file photo, a patient has her blood pressure checked by a registered nurse in Plainfield, Vt. New medical guidelines announced Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, lower the threshold for high blood pressure, adding 30 million Americans to those who have the condition.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

If your blood pressure jumped upon hearing that heart experts tightened the threshold for high blood pressure, you're not alone.

For years, the condition was defined as having blood pressure of 140 over 90. The new threshold for "elevated blood pressure" is 120 over 80 – long the ideal for healthy adults – and high blood pressure is a reading above 130 over 80.

RELATED: Is your medical provider taking your blood pressure all wrong? Experts say probably

According to the new guidelines, developed by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, nearly half of American adults now suffer from high blood pressure, an increase of 30 million people compared to the previous definition.

Often called the "silent killer," high blood pressure often doesn't make people feel ill until it's too late to prevent a heart attack, stroke or significant kidney damage. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans, killing more than 633,000 people last year. Stroke and kidney disease are also in the top 10, killing a combined 190,000.

Scary stuff, indeed. That's why healthcare experts point to blood pressure as an important indicator of health and suggest that better awareness of the measure could drive down those death rates, saving lives and medical costs.

RELATED: 7 ways to lower your blood pressure without medication

But what do all of those numbers really mean? What can you do to get within normal range? And when should you be concerned enough to call your doctor?

Consider these 5 points:

Understand what your blood pressure reading means: Your blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against your artery walls. The top number, or systolic pressure, is the force when your heart is beating. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, is when your heart is at rest. Your blood pressure is in constant flux, but uncontrolled high pressure damages those blood vessels and puts you at risk for stroke and heart attacks. It can even cause severe kidney and eye problems.

Some factors in high blood pressure are out of your control: Blood pressure increases naturally as you age. Men have a higher risk for high blood pressure, while women's risk increases following menopause. African Americans are generally at higher risk. High blood pressure can also run in families.

Home Remedies: Controlling and managing your blood pressure (Dreamstime/TNS)

Get the right diagnosis: Blood pressure literally changes every second. In the study that led to the new guidelines, blood pressure was taken as an average of three measurements during an office visit, with the patient seated alone for five minutes of quiet rest. That's not the typical patient experience, which is why you should expect your doctor to get at least two readings, on two separate occasions, before you can be diagnosed with elevated or high blood pressure.

Focus on what you can change: Patients in the study were already at increased risk of "cardiovascular events," with risk factors like those already mentioned, some of which can't be modified. But there are several lifestyle changes that can lower your blood pressure without medication. For instance, your heart has to pump harder – increasing your blood pressure – if you are overweight. Even a small drop on the scale can help. Quitting smoking can also make a big difference. Cutting back on salt and alcohol helps. Regular exercise makes your heart stronger, which means less effort to pump the same amount of blood. A lack of sleep and too much stress can affect your mood, making it harder to regulate your heart rate and blood pressure.

Talk to the experts: If managing your lifestyle risks doesn't put you back into the normal range, it's important to check with your doctor. It will take more than one visit for your physician to make a diagnosis. Once a healthcare professional confirms a problem, several medications can be used to help control blood pressure. You will require regular monitoring. Even if you're taking medication, lifestyle changes can help cut the dosage of medication and can, over time, eliminate the need for them altogether. Heart experts caution that care will be highly individualized, but you can use an online calculator developed by the study's guidelines committee to help you understand your own risk.

5 questions every woman in her 40s should ask her doctor

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 10:36 AM

Women are waiting longer on average to have babies. Now there’s a push for women in their 20s and 30s to spend thousands of dollars to have their eggs stored. So they can improve their chances for pregnancy later in life. Freezing tiny embryos is also an option. At Reproductive Biology Associates, a fertility clinic in Atlanta, lab workers fertilize patients’ eggs, one by one, with sperm. This lab worker uses a tube and the suction of her breath to hold the material in place for the delicate pro

Women who are in their 40s are in many cases reaching a new stage in their lives. Your children may be more independent, and you might have a well-established career. It can also be a time of change, when it's easier to gain weight, and you may start to see the first signs of menopause.

»RELATED: 4 questions every woman in her 30s should ask her doctor

Being informed about the changes you may face during your 40s is an important way to protect your health for many years to come. It pays to have regular checkups and discuss any potential issues or concerns with your doctor. In addition, you may want to undergo some health screenings to confirm or rule out problems that may be more common after age 40.

The following are five questions every woman in her 40s should ask her doctor:

What supplements should I take?

It's common for women in their 40s to be deficient in nutrients such as vitamin D, according to DoctorOz.com, so it's important to ask your doctor if you should be taking any supplements. This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium, which protects against osteoporosis-related bone loss – a particular concern as you get older.

A blood test can check your vitamin D levels, and if they're low, you may be advised stop smoking, start resistance training and add a supplement to your daily routine.

Should I be tested for diabetes?

Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age, especially after you're 45, according to Healthline. A blood test can determine whether your body is using insulin efficiently enough to help your body maintain consistent blood glucose levels.

You're at particular risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you're overweight, have a family history of the disease or have a history of gestational diabetes. If you have this disease, you're at an increased risk of developing heart disease, blindness and depression.

How can I control my weight?

Women's metabolism slows after age 40, and as a result, you'll need to eat less and exercise in order to maintain the same weight, according to DoctorOz.com. You may also have hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid gland that can result in weight gain. If you're gaining weight, it's worth asking your doctor about, especially if you have dry skin, feel tired and are less able to tolerate cold temperatures.

Your doctor can treat hypothyroidism and also suggest an appropriate fitness plan that takes into account your age, weight and health history.

Should I keep taking birth control pills?

If you're in your 40s, you may think you've left your child-bearing years behind, but that's not necessarily true. Unless you've been menopausal for more than a year, you'll still need to take birth control. The second highest rate of unintended pregnancy is for sexually active women who are age 40 to 50, JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of The North American Menopause Society, told the Chicago Tribune.

Doctors have differing opinions on whether you should keep taking birth control pills after age 40, so talk to your doctor to find out what form of contraception he or she recommends for you.

What about menopause?

You may not be thinking about menopause yet, but it's normal for this process to occur at any age from 40 to 59, according to familydoctor.org. For an indication about when this might happen, look to when the older women in your family reached menopause. Although this can influence when you enter menopause, it's not guaranteed.

After menopause, your body produces less estrogen, and this may increase your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association says. Heart disease is the number-one threat to women's health. Talk to your doctor about symptoms that could indicate your may be headed toward menopause and whether hormone replacement therapy is recommended.

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Flu virus spread by breathing, study finds

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 1:06 PM


Joe Raedle/Getty Images
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Most people believe that the influenza virus is spread through the coughs and sneezes of infected people, but new research published Thursday suggests that the flu virus is spread more easily than previously thought.

>> Read more trending news

Medical professionals believe that the virus is spread most often by “droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But researchers studying how the virus spreads recently found large amounts of the virus in the breath of people suffering from the flu, according to the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health.

>> Related: Influenza surveillance map: Where is the flu in my state? 

The researchers -- from the University of Maryland, San Jose State University, Missouri Western State University and the University of California, Berkeley -- published their findings Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing,” said Donald Milton, professor of environmental health in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and lead researcher for the study.

Milton and his team examined the virus content in the breath of 142 people who were diagnosed with flu as they were breathing normally, speaking, coughing and sneezing. Researchers found that a majority of those who participated in the study had enough of the infectious virus in just their regular, exhaled breath to possibly infect another person.

A review of the data collected from the coughs and sneezes of infected participants showed that neither action appeared to have a large impact on whether or not the virus was spread.

>> Related: 11 things parents need to know about the flu, the vaccine, how long kids need to stay out of school  

“People with flu generate infectious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time), even when they are not coughing and especially during the first days of illness,” Milton said.

The study’s authors said the results highlighted how necessary it is for people who have the flu to stay at home.

>> Related: What is the H3N2 flu and how bad is flu season this year? 

“The study findings suggest that keeping surfaces clean, washing our hands all the time, and avoiding people who are coughing does not provide complete protection from getting the flu,” said Sheryl Ehrman, the dean of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at San Jose State University. “Staying home and out of public spaces could make a difference in the spread of the influenza virus.”

<p>5 Reasons to get a Flu Shot</p>(Bryan Erdy/News | WHBQ)

5 questions every man in his 40s should ask his doctor

Published: Thursday, January 18, 2018 @ 2:28 PM

Here are 5 health questions every man in his 30s should ask his doctor Do I need any immunizations? Should I be worried about this blemish on my skin? Should I be concerned about heart disease? Is my back pain normal? What are the main signs of depression and other mental health conditions?

Men are notorious for not wanting to go to the doctor unless they're desperate. But routine doctor's visits – especially when you hit your 40s and beyond – can help you be as healthy as possible. Getting regular care and screenings can help your doctor catch and treat issues while they're in their earliest stages.

»RELATED: 4 health questions every man in his 30s should ask his doctor

The following are five questions every man in his 40s should ask at his next doctor's exam:

What screenings do I need?

After age 40, family history plays a greater role in what your particular health concerns may be, according to Men's Journal. For example, if you have a family history of colon or prostate cancer, you'll want to start getting screened every five years in your 40s rather than waiting until the usually-recommended age of 50.

You'll also want to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol by getting a full lipid panel every three years – or more often if there's an issue. You should also have your blood glucose level checked, particularly if you're overweight.

Could I be depressed?

Middle-aged men can be at risk for depression or even suicide, but they're often less likely to seek help than women are. Suicide rates for men ages 45 to 64 increased by 43 percent in the years from 1999 to 2014, according to Men's Health.

Many men who are suffering from depression may not experience the typical sadness that's associated with this disorder. They may have a change in sleep patterns, fatigue, a diminished interest in sex or feeling a lack of purpose and connection to life. Increased substance abuse is also a common indication that you may be depressed.

Should I be tested for sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that causes repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. This deprives your brain and the rest of your body of the oxygen it needs to function at your best and increases your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and type 2 diabetes, WebMD says.

If you're a man over 40, you're at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea, especially if you're overweight. Other risk factors include having a neck size of 17 inches or greater, a family history of sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and nasal obstruction due to allergies or sinus issues.

If your doctor thinks you may have sleep apnea, he or she can refer you to a sleep specialist. A sleep study, which measures and records what happens to your body as you sleep, can help confirm or rule out the presence of sleep apnea.

Should I be taking a statin?

Statins are cholesterol-busting drugs, and they're now recommended for people ages 40 to 75 who have one or more risk factors that make them have a 10 percent or greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke within 10 years. The Washington Post says that with these new guidelines, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force has greatly expanded the number of people who should take statins.

Risk factors that could cause your doctor to recommend statins include smoking or having high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.

How can I reduce or prevent a "spare tire?"

As men hit middle age, many tend to gain weight around the middle, which is commonly known as a "spare tire," WebMD says. Studies show that gaining weight in this area is a predictor of heart disease and diabetes, even more so than overall obesity is.

Talk to your doctor about what you can do to lose weight and target extra weight around the middle. He or she can point you to a weight loss and fitness plan that's appropriate for your age, weight and any health considerations you may have.

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Is feeding a cold a real thing? 5 winter health myths debunked

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 9:00 AM

We separate fact from fiction with the following five winter health myths MYTH: Cold weather can make you get sick FACT: We're more likely to get sick in colder months because we're all cooped up together MYTH: You lose 90 percent of your body heat through your head FACT: You could cover up any other exposed body part and also feel warmer MYTH: You don't need sunscreen in the winter TRUTH: Up to 80 percent of the sun's rays can still penetrate the clouds MYTH: Feed a cold, starve a fever TRUTH: You need t

You've probably heard winter health myths for years and you may have even accepted some of them as fact.

From being told to bundle up, so you don't catch a cold to your neighbor swearing he got the flu from his flu shot, these myths make the rounds every winter.

Breathe easy: 5 household plants that improve air quality

We separate fact from fiction with the following five winter health myths:

Stock photo

Cold weather can make you get sick.

Mom always warned you you'd get sick if you didn't bundle up before heading out in cold weather. Her advice wasn't exactly horrible, since you'll certainly be more comfortable and protected from frostbite. But cold by itself doesn't make you more likely to get sick, according to The Weather Channel. Most experts think we're more likely to get sick in colder months, but that's because we're all cooped up together, exchanging germs. Cold weather also dries out your nasal passages, reducing their ability to filter out infections. Despite evidence to the contrary, moms will probably keep warning their kids to bundle up. It's what they do.

You lose 90 percent of your body heat through your head.

Of all your body parts, your head is more likely to be exposed in cold weather. But that doesn't mean the myth about losing 90 percent of your body heat through your head is true, according to Business Insider. Sure, wearing a hat in cold weather will help you stay warm, but that's just because you're covering an exposed body part, not because there's anything special about your head. You could cover up any other exposed body part and also feel warmer.

You don't need sunscreen in the winter.

If you think you only need sunscreen in hotter weather, you've probably packed your lotion away by the time winter comes around. But even when the weather's overcast in the winter, up to 80 percent of the sun's rays can still penetrate the clouds, according to Reader's digest.

UVA rays are always present - even in winter - and they can damage the deeper layers of your skin, increasing your risk for skin cancer and causing premature aging of your skin. And if you're planning a ski trip, you should be even more careful. UV radiation increases with elevation, and snow reflects and intensifies sunlight. So whatever the season, wearing sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF is the safest way to go.

Feed a cold, starve a fever.

The origin of this myth may be rooted in antiquated beliefs about colds and fevers, according to CNN. It was once believed that your body literally became colder if you had a cold, so it needed to be "warmed up" with food. Fever was thought to need "cooling down" by not eating.

In reality, you need to eat whether you have a cold or a fever. Good, nutritious foods are important, but it's OK if your illness suppresses your appetite a little. Staying hydrated is most important, especially if you have a fever. You may need to replenish electrolytes, so sports drinks can be a good choice. Good ol' chicken soup will keep you hydrated while also helping to clear your nasal passages.

RELATED: Your guide to an (almost) allergy-free home

The flu shot can give you the flu.

This isn't true, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC). Flu shots are made with either an inactive form of the virus or no flu virus at all. Neither type can give you the flu. You may have a sore arm after getting a flu shot and some people report having a low-grade fever and aches for a day or two, but it's not the flu.

On the other hand, you may still get the flu even if you've had a flu shot, but the odds of getting it are much lower and, if you do get the flu, the symptoms will likely be less severe.

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