Curbing a silent threat: How to reduce hypertension in your workforce

In my series on increasing disability concerns for employers, I’ve discussed a few diseases that are on the rise — obesity and diabetes. The last disease in the series can be less noticeable, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a threat.

High blood pressure or hypertension (HTN) is sometimes called the “silent killer” because frequently there are no physical symptoms associated with elevated blood pressure. Unless employees have their blood pressure checked regularly, they might not know they have it. Uncontrolled HTN can potentially lead to multiple health problems such as stroke, heart disease and kidney damage.

Determining HTN
Simply put, blood pressure is composed of two measurements: systolic (the top number) over diastolic (the bottom number). Systolic pressure is a measurement of the pressure against our arteries during a heartbeat. Diastolic is the measurement of the pressure against our arteries between heartbeats.

So what is considered a normal reading? A systolic reading less than 120 is normal, 120 to 139 is pre-hypertension and above 140 is considered hypertension. A diastolic reading less than 80 is normal, 80 to 89 is pre-hypertension and above 90 is hypertension.1 It’s ideal for both numbers to be in the normal range (below 120/80), as we do not want to have too much pressure when the heart is contracted during a beat or when it is relaxed between beats.

Reducing HTN in your workforce
While the best ways to help decrease instances of HTN are through lifestyle modifications (think exercise and a low-fat, low-sodium diet) and, in some instances, anti-hypertensive medication, an employer can still help make a positive impact. Consider the following:

  • Provide an annual online health screening for employees and spouses. This might be available through your current medical carrier and can identify potential health conditions. And if needed, it can encourage your employees to see their physician.
  • Offer an employee assistance program for professional assistance on positive lifestyle changes. It’s not easy for someone to make drastic lifestyle changes. Support and encouragement from family, friends and a professional can make it happen.
  • Set up a weight loss program. It’s ideal is to maintain a normal body weight, but even a 10-pound weight loss in an overweight person can reduce blood pressure or prevent HTN.1
  • Provide healthy food choices in your cafeteria. Fruits, vegetables, low-fat and reduced sodium options are part of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan.

Simple solutions can help employees keep an eye on their blood pressure — and perhaps even help them identify if they could be at-risk for a more serious complication if they do have HTN.

1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Available at: Accessed December 10, 2013.

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