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Understand Blood Pressure

Understanding Blood Pressure

Getting your blood pressure checked is nothing new. But do you understand it all?

What Exactly Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure’s the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common disease when that pressure of the blood flowing through the blood vessels is too high.

If your blood pressure gets too high, it can cause serious damage which can lead to blockage which can cause heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.

There are 2 main types of high blood pressure:

  • Primary high blood pressure is the most common type and it tends to develop as you age.
  • Secondary high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or use of certain medicines and it usually goes away when this issue is treated.

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

  • Age – Men usually develop it around age 45 and women after age 65.
  • Race – High blood pressure and serious complications are more common for African Americans.
  • Family history – It tends to run in families.
  • Certain chronic conditions – Kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea can raise your blood pressure.
  • Stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Being overweight
  • Not being physically active
  • Tobacco use
  • Too much salt
  • Too much alcohol
  • Too little potassium
  • Too little vitamin D

If you have some of these other risk factors, your doctor may set your blood pressure target lower.

What Are the Numbers?

  • Systolic is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts, the top number.
  • Diastolic is when your heart rests, the bottom number.

 What Are They Doing?

When a nurse takes your blood pressure, you might wonder what they’re doing. These are the steps they’re following:

  • They wrap the blood pressure cuff around your arm.
  • They place a stethoscope under the cuff at the crease of your elbow (where the major blood vessel of the upper arm is.)
  • They inflate the cuff until it stops the flow of blood.
  • They slowly loosens the cuff’s valve to let the blood start to flow again and listen for sounds in the blood vessel.
  • Then, the first tapping noise they hear, they’ll note as the systolic number, the maximum pressure when the heart contracts.
  • The taps fade, and they note the pressure at the last tap as your diastolic number, the minimum pressure while your heart’s at rest.
  • Along with your numbers, they note which arm they took your blood pressure on and how you were positioned, like sitting with your feet flat.

 Where Should My Numbers Be?

Systolic Measure

Diastolic Measure

What to Do

Normal

Below 120

Below 80

Maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid raising your levels.

High-normal

120 to 139

80 to 89

Make lifestyle changes.

High

140 to 159

90 to 99

Make lifestyle changes. Possibly start a low-level diuretic.

Extremely High

160 or higher

100 or
higher

Often 1 or 2 meds are required right away, plus lifestyle changes.

Source: Consumer Reports, “onHealth”, Volume 23 Number 2

It’s also normal for your blood pressure to change when you sleep, wake up, are active, and are excited or nervous.

If you’re worried about your blood pressure, keep an eye on your levels and take them with you to your next appointment. A broad look at your numbers can help your doctor put you on the right track for heart health.

Wintertime Worries and Falling

Falling and SAD in the Winter

The air is getting crisper and unfortunately, the sun shines less and less. Before we know it, snowflakes and ice will begin to fall. These wintery mixes can compromise both our balance and mental health. Both falling and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can come with the winter weather.

Falling

Each year, more than 300,000 injuries result from falls. Give yourself plenty of time and don’t rush around. Be especially careful getting into and out of your car by holding onto the door or framework for support.

If you must carry things, try to distribute the weight evenly and carry them below waist level, to help keep your center of gravity low. Go down icy stairs sideways.

Take short, flat-footed steps with your feet slightly farther apart than normal with your hands out of your pockets. Keep your eyes on the ground in front of you.

Wear boots or shoes with good traction. Rubber soles are better than plastic or leather. If you wear heels, wear wedges of no more than 2 inches. Once you’re inside, wipe and dry your shoes off to prevent creating slippery conditions inside too.

If you do lose your footing, try to fall so your thighs, hips, then shoulders hit the ground in that order, to keep your arms from taking all your body weight and possibly breaking. Tuck and bend your back and head toward your chest to keep from smacking your head.

SAD

A person suffering from SAD usually experiences depression and unexplained fatigue throughout the winter, while his or her symptoms disappear with the return of spring.

The reasons for developing SAD are still largely unknown, although experts believe it’s somehow triggered by decreased exposure to sunlight.

The symptoms are very similar to depression, but someone with SAD will experience these changes in mood and behavior in a regular, seasonal pattern.

A person with SAD or depression may have a few or all of the symptoms, like loss of energy, changes in mood, trouble concentrating, appetite changes, and weight gain.

Once you’re diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants for just the months you need them. Another option is light therapy. Light therapy uses a special light panel or box that mimics the light from the sun.

Getting a Great Deal

Getting the Best Deal

“I’m always looking at ads to see who’s got the best deal,” Melissa Whitman says.

Who doesn’t love saving money? But how are great deals and health insurance connected? They may be more similar than you think, at least when you see doctors in the Health Alliance network.

“Many of our members are surprised how much they save by staying in-network,” says Melissa, a Health Alliance claims manager. “Going out-of-network can cost members twice as much, and the even more unfortunate part is they often don’t realize that until after their visit or procedure.”

With thousands of doctors and hospitals in-network (and the list growing daily), you don’t need an eye for a good deal. We have people like Melissa for that. Melissa can help with just about anything related to getting your covered care paid for.

Stepping into her cubical proves instantly there’s a lot more to Melissa than claims processing. Her family. Pictures of smiling faces decorate every open space.

“We’re always together. Cooking out,” she said. “In the summer they’re at my pool, and we just got done mushroom hunting.”

Melissa has quite the eye for those hard-to-find morels. For as long as she can remember, mushroom hunting has been an annual adventure.

“The whole family goes. Even my 89-year-old grandma gets her mushroom stick and gets in the woods,” says Melissa with a laugh.

She sums herself up simply. “I’m a city girl. I love my work, my family, and a taste of the country,” she says.

Baby Feet

Before the Burp Cloths, Learn These Baby Basics

If you or someone you love has had a baby, you know the joys that come with being pregnant. Soon-to-be moms and dads might also be nervous about what their health plan covers.

Heather Miller knows. Her team in our call center gets lots of questions from soon-to-be parents.

And she just gave birth to her son Kolton.

If she didn’t know the ins and outs from working at a health plan, Heather says she would have questions, too.

“My first questions would be, ‘Are my visits covered? What about my sonograms?’” she said.

Here’s what Heather says members need to know.

Before the baby is born, we cover:

  • Doctor’s office visits
  • Lab work
  • Sonograms

After the baby is born, we cover:

  • Being in the hospital (48 hours, or 96 hours after a C-section)
  • Most lab work
  • Follow-up visits

New parents typically have 31 days to add their newborn to their plan. Once they have, the baby is covered beginning on the date of birth.

Heather says to review your policy or log in at YourHealthAlliance.org for more details. If you still have questions, call the number on the back of your ID card.

“You’ll feel a little less nervous when you know what your plan covers before you start setting up those pre-baby visits,” she said.

Cholesterol Defined

Understanding Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance made in your liver. Your body needs it to build your cells’ walls, digest fat, and make some hormones. Every day your liver makes enough for what your body needs, so you don’t need to add extra to your diet.

From hamburgers to cheese, cholesterol hides in some of our favorite foods. The average American man eats 337 milligrams of it each day, which is 37 milligrams more than the American Heart Association says is healthy.

Although 37 milligrams doesn’t seem like much, in a week, that adds up to 259 extra milligrams. A diet high in fat and cholesterol is the main reason for heart disease, which is the #1 cause of death in the United States.

Bad cholesterol can happen at any age to anyone, regardless of shape, size, or gender.

Guidelines

Total Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 200 mg/dL

Good

200-239 mg/dL

Borderline High

240 mg/dL or higher

High

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 100 mg/dL

Best

100-129 mg/dL

Good

130-159 mg/dL

Borderline High

160 mg/dL or higher

High

HDL (Good) Cholesterol Level

Category

60 mg/dL or higher

Best

Less than 40 mg/dL

Too Low

Via The American Heart Association

Talk to your doctor to find out your numbers. The sooner you know them, the sooner you can plan for better health.

Know Your Heart Meds

Your Meds and Your Heart

Know Your Heart Meds

You don’t need to be an expert on your drugs, that’s what your doctor’s for, but you should ask questions and know the basics about your heart meds.

Whether it’s a pill for high cholesterol or your blood pressure medicine, make sure you know the answers to these questions:

  • What’s the name of my medicine?
  • What does it do?
  • What are its side effects?
  • What can I do to reduce those side effects?
  • How does this drug work with other drugs, dietary supplements, foods, or drinks?
  • How much is a one dose?
  • When’s the best time to take this medicine, like when you wake up, with breakfast, or before bed?
  • How long will I take this medicine?
  • What should I do if I miss a pill?

Helpful Terms for Understanding Your Blood Pressure Heart Meds

Blood vessels move blood through your body. These are the types of blood vessels:

  • Arteries – These carry blood away from your heart
  • Capillaries – These connect your arteries to your veins and help move water and chemicals between your blood and tissues.
  • Veins – These carry blood from your capillaries back to your heart

Did you know? If you laid all the blood vessels of an average adult in a line, it would stretch over 100,000 miles.

Kinds of Blood Pressure Heart Meds

Blood pressure meds fall into 11 different classes, but they all have the same goals, to lower and control your blood pressure.

Classes

How It Works

Possible Side Effects

Diuretics Help your body flush extra salt and water through your urine.
  • More trips to the
    bathroom
  • Low potassium
Beta-Blockers Reduce your heart rate and how much blood it pumps to lower your blood pressure.
  • Drowsiness
  • Low heart rate
  • Decreased sexual
    ability
ACE Inhibitors (Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme) Narrow your arteries and make you produce less angiotensin, so that your blood vessels can open up to lower your blood pressure.
  • Dry cough
  • High potassium levels
Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers Block your blood vessels from angiotension, so that your blood vessels can open up to lower your blood pressure.
  • High potassium levels
Calcium
Channel Blocker
Prevents calcium from entering the muscle cells of your heart and arteries, which makes your heart’s job easier, and helps your blood vessels open up to lower your blood pressure.
  • Low heart rate
  • Uneven or rapid heartbeat
  • Constipation
  • Ankle swelling
Alpha-Blockers Reduce nerve impulses to your blood vessels to let blood pass more easily.
  • Headache
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Small decreases in bad cholesterol
Central
Agonists
Decrease your blood vessels’ ability to narrow, which also helps to lower blood pressure.
  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased sexual
    ability
  • Fever

Via the American Heart Association.

Kinds of Cholesterol Heart Meds

Depending on the type, cholesterol meds help:

  • Lower your bad cholesterol.
  • Lower your triglycerides, a fat in your blood that raises your risk of heart disease.
  • Increase your good cholesterol, which guards against heart disease.

Types of Cholesterol Meds

How It works

Possible Side Effects

Statins
Altoprev (lovastatin)
Crestor (rosuvastatin)
Lescol (fluvastatin)
Lipitor (atorvastatin)
Mevacor (lovastatin)
Pravachol (pravastatin)
Zocor (simvastatin)
Lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides and cause small increases in good cholesterol.
  • Constipation
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramps
  • Muscle soreness
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Interaction with grapefruit juice
Bile Acid Binding Resins
Colestid (colestipol)
Questran (cholestyramine/ sucrose)
Welchol (colesevelam)
Lower bad cholesterol.
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Upset stomach
  • Gas
  • May increase triglycerides
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitor
Zetia (ezetimibe) Lowers bad cholesterol, and causes small decrease in triglycerides and small increase in good cholesterol.
  • Stomach pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Muscle soreness
Combination Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitor and Statin
Vytorin (ezetimibe-simvastatin) Lowers bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increases good cholesterol.
  • Stomach pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Cramps
  • Muscle soreness
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Interaction with grapefruit juice
Fibrates
Lofibra (fenofibrate)
Lopid (gemfibrozil)
TriCor (fenofibrate)
Lower triglycerides and increases good choleterol.
  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach pain
  • Gallstones
Niacin
Niaspan (prescription niacin) Lowers bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increases good cholesterol.
  • Flushed face and neck
  • Upset stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • High blood sugar
  • Peptic ulcers
Combination Statin and Niacin
Advicor (niacin-lovastatin) Lowers bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increases good cholesterol.
  • Flushed face and neck
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Interaction with grapefruit juice
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Lovaza (prescription omega-3 fatty acid supplement)
Vascepa (Icosapent ethyl)
Lowers triglycerides.
  • Burping
  • Fishy taste
  • Increased infection risk

Via The Mayo Clinic

When Should I Take My Heart Meds?

Your body’s inner clock can affect how well some medications work. Since, you can’t read your body’s clock though, researchers have studied how well heart meds work when they’re taken at different times of the day.

According to a clinical trial from Medscape, blood pressure meds are most effective when taken at night. The random trial tested the effect of taking blood pressure meds at bedtime versus in the morning.

It found that treatment at bedtime was the most cost-effective and simplest strategy to reach the right blood pressure when sleeping and of getting a normal 24-hour blood pressure pattern.”

It also estimated that each 5-mm-Hg decrease in overnight blood pressure reduced the risk of heart events by 14%.

Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before you make a change to your meds or their schedule. You can also learn more about the importance of taking your heart meds regularly and on-time in our Health section.

Managing Your Diabetes Instantly

Apps for Managing Your Diabetes

These days, we can do almost anything with our phones and tablets, and that includes getting help managing your diabetes. Check out these apps (and more) that the American Diabetes Association recommends.

Managing Your Diabetes On-the-Go

Glucose Buddy

Glucose Buddy has tools to track blood sugar levels, med doses, nutrition, and exercise, including handy graphs. And you can set up phone alerts to remind you when to check your levels.

Carb Counting with Lenny

This app makes learning to eat with type 1 diabetes fun and easy. There is a “Does This Food Have Carbs?” game and pictures of common foods with their carb counts.

Diabetes Nutrition by Fooducate

Eating smart is one of the best ways to control your diabetes. Diabetes Nutrition helps you do that by showing you what is actually in the foods you eat. Scan the barcode to see nutrition facts, added sweeteners, and a health grade for the food. When that food isn’t getting a great grade, just tap the screen to see healthier choices.

LogFrog DB

LogFrog helps track blood sugar levels with a frog as your guide. This app makes logging your levels feel like a game. Graphs show spikes in your levels to help you decide if you should change up your daily plan. You can also set alerts so you always remember to check levels and take your medicine on time. This app is a great option for helping your kids manage their diabetes.

GoMeals

GoMeals helps you eat right, even when you’re away from home. You can look up nutrition facts for restaurant meals and food. You can look at restaurant menus to help you plan ahead for smart choices. You can also track your foods and nutrition after eating.