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New tool gives Missourias more information to make healthier choices

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A new online tool is available to assist Missourians in reducing their risk of heart disease and other conditions associated with high blood pressure.

The High Blood Pressure Health Risk Calculator uses height, weight, blood pressure and other factors to determine the user's risk from uncontrolled high blood pressure. It then evaluates the potential for developing heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. The calculator also estimates how lifestyle changes can lower blood pressure and other health risks.

The calculator is a joint effort by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the American Heart Association.

"If your blood pressure is high, you need to take steps to get it under control," said Anita Berwanger, manager of the state health department's Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program. "The online calculator provides a visual depiction of the individual's risks based on their own data, and offers alternatives that can literally save their lives."

High blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for heart disease -- the leading cause of death in the United States and in Missouri. High blood pressure is also the number one risk factor for stroke -- the third most common cause of death nationwide and the leading cause of disability in the state.

High blood pressure is sometimes called a "silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms until serious problems develop. It can afflict people of all ages. Experts estimate that one in three adults suffers from high blood pressure, though many do not know they have it.

A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80, while a blood pressure level greater than 140/90 is high. A person who has a blood pressure reading higher than 120/80 but less than 140/90 is considered to have pre-hypertension and is at risk for developing high blood pressure.

"The online risk calculator helps users identify lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk for developing many health problems," Berwanger said.

A person is at greater risk for developing high blood pressure if they:

* Are overweight or obese

* Have high blood cholesterol

* Have diabetes

* Consume too much salt and not enough potassium

* Drink too much alcohol

* Smoke tobacco

Missourians can take several steps to keep their blood pressure at a healthy level:

* Monitor your cholesterol levels.

* Control diabetes.

* Be physically active.

* Eat a healthy diet to promote a healthy weight.

* Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use.

* Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it is high, be sure to follow your doctor's recommendations for treating it.

* Take medications as prescribed.

The risk calculator can be found at: www.heart.org/missouriproject. Assessment participants are encouraged to take the post test survey to assist the health department in evaluating results. More information about heart disease and high blood pressure can be found at: www.dhss.mo.gov/HeartDisease/ and www.dhss.mo.gov/HighBloodPressure/.

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