Properly diagnosing patients’ hypertension is the first step to setting them on a healthy path. But often the real work on their journey to lower blood pressure is done outside your clinic’s walls by the patients themselves.

So what guidance can you give them to help ensure they will be successful in lowering their systolic and diastolic BP numbers?

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Advice falls into two categories: Teaching them how to measure their own blood pressure at home and walking them through the lifestyle changes they need to make to see those numbers drop. Tools on the Target: BP™ website can help.

Target: BP is a national initiative from the AMA and the American Heart Association that aims to reduce the number of Americans who have heart attacks and strokes by urging medical practices, health service organizations and patients to prioritize blood pressure control.

Studies have shown that self-measured blood pressure monitoring—where patients are trained to measure their own blood pressure outside the office and communicate the results back to their doctor’s office—helps ensure more accurate hypertension diagnoses, better management of uncontrolled high blood pressures and results in patients better adhering to their treatment plan.

Teaching patients how to accurately monitor their blood pressure should take five to six minutes in the office and can be done by a medical assistant, registered nurse or physician assistant with help from tools available at Target: BP.

For example, a downloadable, printable PDF walks through what patients need to do to prepare, position and measure their blood pressure .

Changing the bad habits that contribute to high blood pressure in the first place is key to patients making strides in improving their blood pressure numbers.

There are five things Target: BP outlines for patients to do to improve their blood pressure.

Among them is increased physical activity. Proper exercise can lower blood pressure by 5 to 8 mm Hg, studies show. The federal government’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recently revised its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, recommending that adults should partake in at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly. The guidelines also recommend muscle-strengthening activities two or more times a week.

Reduced sodium intake can also go a long way in reducing BP, lowering it about 5 to 6 mm Hg. Target: BP offers physicians a two-page handout explaining how lowering salt helps BP, listing foods to avoid and recommending different ways to cook foods at home. Optimally, patients should try to restrict their sodium to less than 1,500 mg daily, but even reducing their sodium intake by 1,000 mg from where they are now can help lower their blood pressure.

Physicians also should advise patients to lose weight if they are overweight, and maintain a normal body weight once achieved. Doctors may also consider recommending a lifestyle-change program for patients, especially if they have prediabetes.  

Patients who drink alcohol should limit their alcohol intake. Men should consume no more than 2 drinks a day, while women should have no more than 1 drink daily.

Following the DASH eating plan, a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy, is also recommended. It’s been shown to reduce blood pressure by as much as 11 mm Hg, and can contribute to weight loss and achieving lower sodium intake.

Helping patients understand the importance of these lifestyle changes and the value of self-measuring their blood pressure on a regular basis can go a long way in improving the nation’s estimated 48 percent blood pressure control rate.

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