DEAR HARRIETTE: I have not been feeling well recently, so I went to the doctor and learned that I have high blood pressure. I am so embarrassed. I feel like I have let my family down by falling into the family trap. Almost everyone on my father's side gets it by age 50. I swore to myself that it wouldn't happen to me. I'm afraid that diabetes is next -- most of my father's family has that, too. I already know that I should lose weight and exercise more and all that, but I find myself consumed by work or my kids, and I rarely get to it. I got a wakeup call the other day when a friend a couple years younger than me who appeared to be in really good health -- thin and trim -- died suddenly. We learned later he had high blood pressure and wasn't taking his meds. Now I'm scared. I am taking the medicine I was given, but I feel so isolated. I feel like if I tell my family, they are going to judge me. But I'm not being successful handling this alone. -- Sick and Scared, New Orleans
DEAR SICK AND SCARED: Did you know that one in three American adults suffers from high blood pressure? The numbers are staggering. I share them with you so that you can rest assured that you are not alone. Many people face this insidious disease at some point in their lives.
According to research, there are plenty of things you can do, which you know already. But doing them a little bit at a time may help. Change your diet. Drink more water and less caffeine. Reduce your alcohol intake. Move your body.
Those are the obvious suggestions. Trying to do it alone is not wise. The curious thing in your situation is that your family will likely be open to discussing this condition with you. They may even have pointers for you. You, ironically, are the one who has judged them, or at least your family history, by saying this would never happen to you. Heredity is a factor in illness sometimes. You may be predisposed to this condition. Stop judging yourself or your family and talk to them. Get professional counseling, too. For more information on hypertension, visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/.