For this interview, we asked Arizona-based cardiologist Dr. Sarika Desai questions about heart health. Dr. Desai is a preventative cardiologist who specializes in cholesterol disorders and general heart health.
- What is blood pressure (BP) and how is it related to the heart?
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries are responsible for supplying blood to the brain and body. It is natural for blood pressure to change in response to stress, dehydration, and other factors.
- What is a healthy blood pressure level? Can you explain what those numbers refer to?
A healthy BP = 120/80 mm Hg
The systolic or top number measures pressure in your arteries when the heart beats. The diastolic number or the bottom number measures pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes in b/w beats.
- Why is having healthy blood pressure levels so important?
Uncontrolled blood pressure can have serious cardiovascular consequences, including stroke, heart attack, or heart failure.
- How can someone tell if they have high blood pressure? What are some of the signs or symptoms to look for?
The best thing to do is to go get checked. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure. Or, you can also purchase a blood pressure monitor to use at home. Always remember to discuss your blood pressure readings with your doctor.
When someone has elevated blood pressure, they can display signs, including headaches, fatigue, vision problems, chest pain, shortness of breath, and/or blood in the urine.
- What causes high blood pressure? The top 5 causes include:
- Lack of physical activity
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Too much salt in the diet
- Too much alcohol consumption (more than 2 drinks per day)
- Older age
- How important is diet in relation to hypertension?
It is very important. Making changes to your diet is a proven way to help control high blood pressure levels. These changes can also help you lose weight and lower your chance of heart disease and stroke. I highly recommend working with a dietitian who can review your food choices and help you create a healthy meal plan.
- What are some of your favorite heart-healthy foods to eat?
My heart-healthy food list includes:
- leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach
- whole grains
- walnuts, almonds, and pistachios
- black beans
- olive oil
- Can exercise improve high blood pressure? If so, what type of exercise do you recommend to those looking to lower their blood pressure?
Yes, exercise plays a vital role in improving high blood pressure. Regular physical activity — such as 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8 mm Hg. I recommend brisk walking, cycling, hiking, swimming, or running. For patients with joint issues, water aerobics is also helpful.
- What can hypertension lead to if it is not managed?
Uncontrolled blood pressure can have serious cardiovascular results, including stroke, heart attack, or heart failure.
- What actions do you recommend for someone with hypertension trying to lower their blood pressure?
I would begin with a heart-healthy diet, with a focus on plant-based, low-sodium foods, as well as daily cardiovascular exercise. However, certain ranges of high blood pressure require medical therapy, so I advise you to consult with your doctor before beginning any new regimen.
Who is Dr. Desai?
Dr. Desai is the owner and physician at Arizona Heart 360, a holistic medical practice. She is clinical faculty at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and the University of Arizona. She enjoys a heart healthy, vegan lifestyle with her husband, son, and dog Phoenix.