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Prevent a Heart Attack or Stroke by Controlling Your Blood Pressure

The following is a guest post by Janet Wright, MD, FACC, Executive Direction of Million Heartsâ„¢, a national initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


As a practicing cardiologist for almost 25 years, I often met men and women for the first time when they suffered a serious and life-threatening event-a heart attack or stroke. I enjoyed being part of a team that used its skills to minimize damage and offer hope for a healthier future, and the experience also showed me firsthand the power of prevention. Now, as the executive director of the Million Heartsâ„¢ initiative, I am delighted to be part of a five-year effort to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes.

Many people don't know that heart attacks and strokes are preventable. Just because your father, your mother, or your brother suffered a heart attack or a stroke, doesn't mean that you will, too. Your DNA is not your destiny!

One of the best ways you can reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke is by paying attention to your blood pressure. One in three Americans has high blood pressure and only half have it adequately controlled.

Right now-National High Blood Pressure Education Month-is the perfect time to learn more about your own blood pressure and how controlling it protects your heart. From diet and physical activity to medications, there are easy, effective and economical ways to measure, routinely monitor, and control your blood pressure.

A good first step toward control is to look at what you eat. A diet high in sodium (salt) can raise blood pressure to abnormal levels. Today, 90% of us eat on average about 3,300 mg of sodium a day-way more than the recommended amount of 2,300 mg a day. About 6 in 10 adults (those of us who are 51 or older; African-American; or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease) should take in no more than 1,500 mg a day.

Finding the sodium in your diet can help you reduce it.


Other good steps to reduce your sodium intake--and help lower blood pressure-include:

  • Read the Nutrition Facts labels while shopping to find the lowest sodium options of your favorite foods.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and choose frozen fruits and vegetables without sauce.
  • Cook meals from scratch when you can.
  • When eating out, ask for lower sodium options.

On behalf of all the Million HeartsTM public and private partners, I encourage you to talk with your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or community health worker about how else you can keep your blood pressure in the normal range. I would also encourage you to know your blood pressure and monitor it regularly. 

Million Heartsâ„¢ has taken on an audacious goal of preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Join me in this fight against the nation's top killers by taking the pledge at, sharing these important messages with your loved ones, and taking control of your blood pressure-and your future.

Biography: Janet Wright, MD, FACC, is the Executive Direction of Million Heartsâ„¢, a national initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over five years. Janet practiced cardiology for 23 years before joining the American College of Cardiology and currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Photo credits: crayonbeam on Flickr. And Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Where's the Sodium?" Vital Signs, February 2012. 

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