You Can Still Be a Foodie with High Blood Pressure

woman eating a high blood pressure friendly meal

Woman Eating a High Blood Pressure Friendly Meal

Everyone loves a delicious dish, including yourself, right? Though when you suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension) you’re likely to think you’ve got two choices when it comes to eating: eating incredibly tasteless bland food for the rest of your life or continue eating the way you typically do and see where it takes you, after all, there’s medication.

The problem with the latter is it can contribute to taking more medication or worse yet, lead to heart disease and stroke.

But, there’s good news, you can take care of your blood pressure and be a foodie at the same time, you just have to be a smart foodie. Start being a smart foodie with these six simple tips.

  1. Understand how to read food labels
    The nutrition facts label is a key tool when making healthier food choices. The most important number on food labels … serving sizes. According to Johns Hopkins Exercise Physiologist, Kerry J. Stewart, Ed.D., “a lot of people don’t pay attention to serving size when they read nutrition labels, so they wind up getting double, triple or even quadruple the amount of calories, carbs, fats and so on.” Once you know the serving size, you can better measure calories and choose your nutrients wisely – taking in more fiber, potassium and vitamins A and C and reducing cholesterol, sodium, sugars, saturated fats and trans fats, which can also be found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.
  2. Stay hydrated
    It is important for the body to have adequate fluids, especially water. Water helps prevent dehydration, flushes out excess sodium, assists with weight loss, and helps with the digestion and absorption of key nutrients. Your water intake doesn’t always have to be straight out of the tap, try spring water or add a twist of lemon or lime for some added flavor. Unless you’re advised otherwise by your physician, you can still have your favorite beverages, though you’ll want to limit your intake of them because of their added sugars or salt. Make these an indulgence rather than an everyday occurrence.
  3. Reduce your sodium intake
    Too much salt or sodium can cause your body to retain fluid, which can increase blood pressure. To reduce your sodium intake eat fresh produce, use herbs and spices for flavor and choose low- sodium or no-added-salt “convenience” foods.
  4. Include a variety of colorful vegetables
    Vegetables add important heart-healthy nutrients and fiber that help you feel satisfied and full. If you’re a vegetable lover, try eating more vegetarian meals. Vegetarian diets tend to be higher in potassium, magnesium and calcium. You can find loads of vegetarian recipes online. Experiment, try new dishes and see what you like.
  5. Eat fresh, in-season fruit
    It’s healthier, more refreshing, and best of all, requires very little prep work from you. Though, if you like creating in the kitchen, try various fruit salad combinations and add it to other foods for extra pizazz. Either way, fruit is a good multi-purpose food; you can start or end your day with it or snack on it in the middle of the day and on the go. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the following fruits are available during the following seasons:fruit by season
  6. Choose nuts and seeds for fun snacks
    Nuts and seeds make for great snack foods. They’re rich in sources of energy, magnesium, protein and fiber. But, if you’re going to snack on these, remember to choose salt-free. The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends eating almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts and sunflower seeds.

With these six tips, you now have a starting point for eating delicious dishes with a healthy twist.

For more help on managing high blood pressure, enroll in our Living Health with Hypertension class.

What are your favorite high blood pressure friendly foods? Share with us and our readers.


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Colonoscopy, It’s Better Than You Think

Colon Cancer Screening Ten Second Assessment

Colon Cancer Screening Ten Second Assessment

Between hearing the dreaded prep stories and the thought of having a device inserted into your bottom, it’s no wonder you’re probably questioning … is colonoscopy screening really necessary?

Yes, it is! According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and the third most common cancer in men and women. Yet, it’s one of the most curable types of gastrointestinal cancer, if detected early.

It all starts with a small polyp that grows in the colon’s lining. If untreated, the polyp grows larger and larger, to the point of becoming cancerous. When it’s at that point, the cancer starts to spread.

Now knowing why it’s necessary, let’s get to the truth behind the myths.

The prep drink tastes awful and you have to drink a lot of it.
While it might not taste like your favorite beverage, the good news is bowel prep has become easier. Products have greatly improved, as recently as within the last few years, and many physicians are prescribing a split dose – half the night before and half the morning of the procedure.

Expect to live in the bathroom.
To say you will live in the bathroom during your prep is an exaggeration, but you will visit it often, so it’s best that you spend your time in a comfortable setting with a bathroom close by.

No food the day before your procedure.
Not exactly, though you can expect to be on a limited diet. Physicians will typically instruct you to only eat a light breakfast and lunch before noon. After noon, you can expect to be on a clear liquids diet, but don’t worry, it’s not just water. You can drink your favorite juices, tea, coffee (without cream), soda and indulge your sweet tooth with jello, popsicles and Italian ices, so long as they don’t include pieces of fruit.

The goal is to have a clean colon so the physician can easily detect any polyps.

Having a device inserted in your bottom must hurt.
The device is a colonoscope. It’s a flexible camera that can easily move through the colon, allowing the physician to examine your colon and detect and remove any polyps.

While this may sound uncomfortable, you’ll be given a sedative before the procedure, so that you’re in a comfortable, drowsy, twilight sleep while this is happening. You probably won’t even remember the procedure when you wake up or feel any discomfort – most don’t.

No symptoms, no family history means no need for screening.
Colon cancer typically starts as precancerous growths. Precancerous growths don’t usually display symptoms, so feeling fine doesn’t exempt you from getting screened. And, if you think you can escape colon cancer because it doesn’t run in your family, think again. Everyone is at risk.

Screening should start at age 50 and younger if you do have a family history of colon cancer or if you are African-American or Eastern European Jewish decent.

Don’t let myths or fears stop you from getting screened. If you have additional question and concerns, speak with your physician. But if you’re ready to get screened, make an appointment with our physicians.


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Simple Steps to Avoid Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, you may not realize that you are at risk of having a heart attack until it’s too late.

While there is very little you can do to change your family medical history, you can make lifestyle changes to lower your risk. First, learn about the behaviors that increase the risk of heart disease, and then start taking preventive steps.

Behaviors that Increase Heart Disease Risk

Preventive Steps

Eat a heart-healthy diet

Add these following foods to your diet. They are considered to be the main ingredients of a heart-healthy diet.

  • Vegetables – greens (spinach, collard greens and kale), broccoli, cabbage and carrots
  • Fruits – apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes and prunes
  • Whole grains – plain oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain bread or tortillas
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods – milk, cheese or yogurt
  • Protein-rich foods – fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, lean meats, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products and legumes (lentils and some bean types)
  • Oils, butters, nuts and seeds – canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower and soybean oils; nut and seed butters; walnuts, almonds and pine nuts; and sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds

Aim for a healthy weight 

Body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, is commonly used for determining weight category (underweight, healthy weight, overweight and obese). Adults are typically considered to be at a healthy weight when their BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9.

Use Johns Hopkins Medicine’s BMI calculator to help determine your BMI.

Lower stress

Improve your emotional and physical health by learning to manage stress and practice stress-reducing activities, including:

  • Seeing a mental health care provider
  • Joining a stress management program
  • Meditating
  • Being physically active
  • Practicing relaxation therapy
  • Speaking with friends, family and community or religious support systems

Increase physical activity

Routine physical activity can lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase good (HDL) cholesterol levels, control high blood pressure and help with losing excess weight.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends the following:

  • Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week
  • Vigorous aerobic exercise – 1 hour and 15 minutes per week

Before starting a new exercise program, you should first ask your doctor how much and what physical activities are safe for you.

Quit smoking

Speak with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking, and try to avoid secondhand smoke. If you are having trouble with quitting on your own, consider joining a support group.

Visit your doctor

According to David Jackson, M.D., a cardiologist on staff at HCGH, one of the critical steps to keeping your heart healthy is seeing your doctor for a routine physical exam. Your doctor checks your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar – the big three indicators for heart attack and stroke.

“If your numbers start to become abnormal, you may not feel different or experience symptoms, so it’s important to have them checked periodically and more frequently as you age,” says Dr. Jackson. “Having a primary care physician monitoring your care to identify trends in your numbers is important.”

Learn more about why primary care physicians are important to your health.

More Information

For more details on heart-healthy living, view the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Heart-healthy Lifestyle Changes.

Share Your Thoughts

Do you have any heart-healthy tips – recipe, exercise, stress reducing or other tips? We’d love to hear them, and our readers will appreciate them too. Share them in the comments area.

 


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My Recent Experience with Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Last April, something strange and unexpected happened to me. I noticed that my left ear felt clogged up, as if water was trapped in my ear canal, which was entirely possible from bathing or swimming. I went around for a week or two shaking my head wildly left and right, tugging on my ear lobe and repeatedly Googling terms such as “my ear feels clogged up” and “how to remove water trapped in your ear.” All to no avail. After a few more weeks of waiting for this mysterious symptom to resolve, I made an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (AKA an otolaryngologist, but try saying that three times with your mouth full!), who, after a thorough examination, referred me for a hearing test with an audiologist.

At this point I was a little confused but not at all concerned. It did seem weird that even after having impacted ear wax removed at the ENT’s office, the strange muffled sensation in my ear persisted. The hearing test, my first as an adult, revealed that I have a moderately-severe high frequency loss in my left ear, as well as mild loss in the right ear. Further testing revealed my hearing loss was permanent, unexplained, and that I would need hearing aids for both ears! Trust me when I tell you, I was in complete shock.

I was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). What does this mean? Well, there are three main types of hearing loss: SNHL, conductive, or mixed. SNHL is the most common type of hearing loss. It’s caused by damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain. When SSNL occurs over the course of just a day or two, it is known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Some possible causes of SNHL include genetics, aging, head trauma, exposure to loud music, or even certain ototoxic medications that have a deleterious effect on hearing. The truth is, though, like in my case, often a cause can not be determined.

Conductive hearing loss involves the middle or outer ear, and can be caused by things such as colds, allergies, ear infections, Eustachian tube dysfunction, impacted ear wax, or the presence of a foreign body, to name a few. In contrast to SNHL, conductive loss is more frequently treatable and reversible. A mixed hearing loss involves having both sensorineural and conductive loss at the same time.

As soon as I found out that I had partial but irreversible hearing loss that is likely to only get worse over time, I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything in my power to mitigate the communication difficulties that accompany hearing loss. I wasted no time in getting fitted for high quality hearing aids. Hearing aids have come a long way from the “ear trumpets” of days gone by. The latest hearing aids are state of the art, programmable, and designed to be comfortable and unobtrusive. An audiologist works with the patient over time to tweak the settings for optimal effectiveness.

In addition to wearing hearing aids, I am planning on taking a speech/lip reading class, as this skill can be important to help fill in the blanks when in noisy environments such as restaurants. I have only just started to explore assistive listening technologies such as hearing loops and captioning in public venues, as well as personal listening devices. Finally, I have found many organizations online that offer advocacy, education, and support for those affected by hearing loss and related conditions. Having hearing loss is a highly individual experience, but it can be isolating, so it is wonderful to connect with others who understand what it is like and who can offer advice and support.

Sadly, a stigma still surrounds hearing loss in our society. This is part of the reason I wanted to share my personal experience. Stigma makes people feel ashamed and so they keep information to themselves that may actually benefit others also experiencing the same problem. Silence perpetuates stigma, stereotypes, and misinformation. I have decided that even though I may sometimes feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, it is in my best interest to advocate for myself and to be honest about my hearing loss.

My personal advice to anyone experiencing a change in your hearing is to see your doctor ASAP. Even if you think you just have a cold or a clogged up ear, do not delay seeking treatment because some types of sudden hearing loss may be reversible if treated immediately. However, even if you have been avoiding getting treatment for a long-standing problem, please stop burying your head in the sand – there is help! I recently read a statistic that the average hard of hearing person waits seven years before seeking treatment for their hearing loss. People will suffer in silence because of fear or shame rather than admit to a problem that can be effectively treated and managed, leading to an enhanced quality of life.

Depending upon severity and individual circumstances, the effects of hearing loss upon an individual can range from mildly inconvenient to completely life altering, but by addressing your particular situation head on, you can minimize further negative consequences and take control of your life.

There is life after hearing loss!

Andrea L. Dowling has been with HCLS since 2006, and is currently an Assistant Customer Service Supervisor at the HCLS East Columbia Branch. Andrea’s interests include genealogy, travel, reading banned books, and collecting vintage cook books.

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Congenital Heart Defects Reference Guide for Parents

Jeniah Simpson wearing a red hat from the American Heart Association's Little Hats, Big Hearts for heat disease awareness.

Jeniah Simpson wearing a red hat from the American Heart Association’s Little Hats, Big Hearts. Supporters knit and crochet red hats to give to thousands of babies at participating hospitals during American Heart Month.

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. But despite great advances in screening and diagnosis, congenital heart disease can go unnoticed for a long period of time until heart damage has progressed enough to cause detectable symptoms.

While we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week, it also marks Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week. The pediatric cardiologists at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and elsewhere remind both parents and their pediatricians to watch for any subtle signs that could signal the presence of congenital heart disease.

What Is a Congenital Heart Defect?

When the heart or blood vessels around it do not develop properly or develop abnormally before birth, a condition called congenital heart defect occurs (congenital means “existing at birth”). Congenital heart defects occur in close to one percent of all babies born, affecting some 40 thousand infants annually in the U.S. That’s about eight babies for every one thousand children born in the U.S. Most young people with congenital heart defects live into adulthood now, but may require more than one intervention or surgery to treat their condition.

Types of Congenital Heart Defects

  • A hole between two chambers of the heart (common defect)
  •  The right or left side of the heart is not formed completely (hypoplastic)
  • Only one ventricle is present
  • Both the pulmonary artery and the aorta arise from the same ventricle
  • The pulmonary artery and the aorta arise from the “wrong” ventricles

Signs and Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Disease

In infants, the classic signs include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Sweating around the baby’s head during feeding
  • Slow growth
  • Breathing fast while at rest and/or asleep
  • Irritability
  • Bluish or pale skin, a sign of abnormally low oxygen levels

In older children, typical signs of congenital heart defects include:

  • Complaints of heart palpitations
  • Feelings of dizziness
  • Getting tired very easily with physical exertion
  • Inability to keep up with other kids

Cause of Congenital Heart Defects

In most cases, the cause is unknown. Sometimes a viral infection in the mother causes the condition. The condition can be genetic (hereditary). Most heart defects either cause an abnormal blood flow through the heart, or obstruct blood flow in the heart or vessels.

Treatment for Congenital Heart Problems

As children grow, some minor heart defects such as small holes may repair themselves. But when a defect requires correction, there are both non-surgical and surgical treatments available today which are less invasive and involve cardiac catheterization, medical device insertion, and minimally invasive heart surgery. In rare cases, a heart transplant may be needed.

Learn more about congenital heart defects from Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Pediatric Cardiology.


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Primary care physicians (PCPs) hold the key to better health for you and your family. These physicians are on the front lines of health care and they get to know you, your family and medical history. It’s important to have a PCP that you like and have a good relationship with to get the best care possible.

Your PCP is like the quarterback on a football team calling the plays, or in this case, making the plans to address your health concerns and guiding your plan of care. Primary care can handle 85 percent of the problems that patients have, and can coordinate care needed for other problems as well.

It’s so important to get good primary care that many health care systems, including Johns Hopkins Medicine, are creating a new approach to primary care called “medical homes.”

Vice President of Population Health and Advancement at Howard County General Hospital, Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, Ph.D., offers some important insights on the benefits of primary care.

Broad Knowledge and Skills
While PCPs are not specialists, they have a special skill set, which allows them to be adept at spotting a broad, underlying condition responsible for a range of symptoms. Depression or a chronic inflammatory disorder, for example, can manifest in any number of ways: stomach discomfort, joint pain or problems with multiple organs.

There is a growing emphasis today on preventive medicine and maintaining overall wellness to ward off problems before they occur, if possible. Helping preserve and protect your health helps you save money on health care costs and also reduces costs for the health system overall.

For example, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions are preventable. The effect of healthy habits on a person’s life can be enormous. Recent preliminary evidence shows a 5 percent reduction in weight in an overweight person can reduce their risk of diabetes by 65 percent.

Your Primary Care Team
To help ensure care is delivered most effectively and efficiently, health care systems are creating the “patient-centered medical home.” In short, the medical home transforms a primary care clinic or other facility into a home base, where most of what a person needs for better health is located and available.

Though the primary care physician remains at the center of providing care, emphasis on a team is paramount. These teams typically include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, health coaches, community health workers and more.

Technology Makes It More Personal
Electronic medical records are another component of the medical home that seamlessly weave together detailed notes from every care provider who sees the person, lab and imaging results, and the like. This way the primary care team can get reports on which patients are facing gaps in their care.

For more information about the benefits of primary care and selecting the best physician for you and your family, read Four Reasons Why You Should Have a Primary Care Physician.


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