High blood pressure or hypertension is called the silent killer because it can cause damage to your heart and blood vessels even though you may not have any symptoms. One out of three adults in the United States has high blood pressure. Many people think of high blood pressure as an older persons disease, however an alarming increase has been observed among children secondary to inactivity and obesity.
High blood pressure can lead to kidney disease, heart attacks, strokes and heart failure (an enlargement of the heart muscle). Can this be prevented? Unfortunately family history, increased age and ethnicity (African Americans are at a much higher risk) are risk factors that cannot be controlled. Postmenopausal women also have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. But the good news is there are numerous diet and lifestyle risk factors that are modifiable: being overweight, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, emotional stress and consuming a high salt diet. Sleep apnea is an often unrecognized contributing factor to high blood pressure, when the sleep apnea is treated the blood pressure often improves.
What do your blood pressure (BP) numbers mean?
Two numbers are obtained when you get your blood pressure (BP) checked. The first number is called the systolic BP and tells you how hard your heart muscle is working in order to pump the blood out of your heart and throughout your body. If the systolic BP is high it means your heart muscle is working too hard and can lead to an enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle which leads to heart failure. When the systolic BP is too high, your risk for stroke increases. The higher the systolic BP, the higher your risk for stroke. The second number is called the diastolic BP and tells you how relaxed or constricted your blood vessels are. If the diastolic BP is too high, blood is not able to circulate effectively. So both numbers are important to control.
What is a normal blood pressure?
Below are the current guidelines for both men and women.
Normal BP Less than 120/80
Pre-hypertension 120 to 139/80 to 89
Hypertension 140/90 or greater
Some people have “white coat hypertension” which means they have a transient increase in their blood pressure when they see someone in a white coat (healthcare provider). A single elevated blood pressure reading caused by the apprehension of going to the doctor’s office usually does not require treatment. It is not uncommon to have fluctuations in your blood pressure with activity and emotional events but consistently high readings require treatment.
Can high blood pressure be cured?
Kidney disease, tumors of the adrenal glands, or coarctation (narrowing) of the aorta may lead to high blood pressure. Treating these disorders may eliminate the blood pressure problems. But the majority (95%) of people with high blood pressure have essential hypertension meaning the underlying cause cannot be determined. The most important goal is to control the blood pressure even if a specific cause for the high blood pressure cannot be found. There are a lot of things you can do to help control your blood pressure. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise (remember walking counts as exercise); smoking cessation, weight loss if overweight, stress management, limiting alcohol consumption and sodium restriction can help to lower blood pressure. Some people are more salt sensitive, and just by cutting back on their salt intake can lower their blood pressure significantly.
Eight Tips to Lower Blood Pressure:
1) Low Sodium (salt) Diet – recommendation is less than 2,400mg per day, or less than 2,000 mg of sodium daily if you have high blood pressure
2) Increase Potassium Rich Foods – recommendation is 4,700 mg of potassium daily. Good food sources of potassium include: Bananas, Dried beans, Tomatoes, Beef, Orange juice/grapefruit juice, Milk, Coffee, Potatoes, Kidney beans, Salmon/Halibut
3) Exercise – Aim for 30 minutes 5 to 7 days every week
4) Weight loss (if overweight) or maintain a healthy weight
5) Use fresh garlic frequently (chop garlic and let sit for 15 minutes – this allows garlic to oxidize and gets converted to allicin which is the heart healthy part of garlic)
6) Develop consistent healthy stress relief strategies (exercise, get a massage, yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, deep breathing exercises, read, listen to relaxing music) whatever works best for you
7) Stop smoking
Limit alcoholic beverages (no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women)
Many people will require medications to help control their blood pressure readings. The majority of people with high blood pressure require two or more medications to keep their blood pressure controlled, this is why numerous combination medications are available. Routine monitoring of your blood pressure is also important. If you are taking high blood pressure medications and your blood pressure numbers are good you should not stop taking your medications without consulting with your healthcare provider. Most likely the reason your blood pressure numbers are good is because of the medications.
A recent Centers for Disease Control publication stated that only about 30% of adults with high blood pressure have their blood pressure well controlled! The only way to know if you have high blood pressure or to know if it is controlled with medications is to check your blood pressure on a regular basis. Do you know your numbers? If not what are you waiting for – get it checked today! Your heart will thank you.