Ever been told you have high blood pressure? You are not alone. Every 1 out of 3 people in the US is thought to suffer from high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure is medically known as Hypertension. When the pressure becomes higher than normal, it can cause injury to vital organs including the heart, brain, eyes and kidneys. The number one cause of doctor office visits amongst adults in the US is for high blood pressure. Despite these efforts more than half of people diagnosed with Hypertension do not have good control over their blood pressure.
There’s a reason it’s often called the “silent killer”
Most of the time, high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) has no obvious symptoms to indicate that something’s wrong, especially at the early stage of the disease. The best ways to protect you are being aware of the risks and making changes that matter.
Let’s break down all the important facts you need to know about your blood pressure.
What is it?
The arteries carry blood to all the organs within your body. When the blood is pumped through the body, it applies a force against the walls of the artery which is known as blood pressure. When this pressures is higher than normal over a period of time, it is known as Hypertension or High Blood Pressure, will lead to damage in the arterial walls.
Know your numbers
The best way to protect yourself is to learn where you stand by measuring your blood pressure.
What causes it?
The exact cause of Primary Hypertension is unknown, but what we do know is that multiple factors play an important role in causing it.
- Age: As we get older we are more likely to have higher blood pressure. Chances are that if you are older than 60, you have higher blood pressure.
- Genetics: Having just one parent with high blood pressure makes it twice as likely for you to have high blood pressure.
- Obesity: Being overweight increases the chance of having higher blood pressure.
- Race: Black people are at increased risk of having high blood pressure in comparison to white people.
- High Salt Diet: A high salt diet, commonly more than 3 grams every day can play a role in causing high blood pressure. Decreasing salt intake will usually lower blood pressure very quickly.
- Excessive Alcohol use: Women who consume two or more alcoholic drinks per day and men who have three or more drinks per day have an increased risk of having higher blood pressure compared with nondrinkers.
- Smoking: Tobacco use, especially cigarettes can increase blood pressure.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Not getting enough exercise can cause blood pressure to be higher.
- Certain Medications: Commonly prescribed medications such as oral contraceptives, anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen, antidepressants and steroids can increase blood pressure.
Why is it harm of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure exerts its effects on the organs of the body over time. It mainly affects the heart, brain, eyes and kidneys. It can cause serious conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, decreased vision and permanent damage to the kidneys. As blood pressure increases, so does the chance of having any one of these conditions.
How do you know?
High blood pressure is a silent condition and can be present without having any symptoms. It develops slowly over a period of years and can continue to damage the arteries, heart, brain, eyes and kidneys. The best way to know is routinely check your blood pressure. In 2017, a new definition of blood pressure was released. Anyone with a consistent reading above 130/80 mmHg is classified as having high blood pressure. The key word here is consistent, meaning more than one reading taken over many days.
Most people do not know how to properly check their blood pressure at home. The best way to measure it is to sit and rest for 5-10 minutes before checking. When you sit down, the back should be supported and legs uncrossed. The arm should be supported (by placing it on an arm rest or the thigh). If the arm hangs down on the side and not supported, the reading will be higher and not be accurate.
How do you treat it?
If your blood pressure readings are high (greater than 130/80 mmHg), it is important to discuss this with your doctor. Your doctor will then decide whether you need medications and what medications. That does not mean that you cannot help lower it. In fact, lifestyle changes are recommended for everyone that has high blood pressure as these can lower high blood pressure.
- Decrease Salt Intake: Eat less than 2 grams of salt a day.
- Weight Loss: For every pound of weight that you lose, the blood pressure can drop by 1 point or 1 mmHg.
- Limit Alcohol use: Women with high blood pressure should not have more than 1 alcoholic drink per day. Men with high blood pressure should not have more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day.
- Exercise: This by itself when done consistently, which means 3 to 4 sessions per week of moderate intensity lasting for 40 minutes can decrease blood pressure by 4 to 6 points or 4-6 mmHg. These effects are not seen right away, and usually take weeks to months before they become evident.
- Stop Smoking: Your doctor’s favorite thing to say.
- Diet: A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy products and low in snacks, sweets, red meat, and saturated fat. This means four to five servings of fruit or vegetables, and two to three servings of low-fat dairy per day. Cut out the unhealthy fat.
Will I need medications forever?
The goal of therapy which includes medications and lifestyle changes is to keep blood pressure lower than 130/80 mmHg. Once again the importance of lifestyle changes cannot be stressed enough. With lifestyle changes alone, some people can bring their blood pressure within a normal range. Once good control of blood pressure is achieved, medications can be stopped gradually. Despite having good control of blood pressure, stopping medications abruptly can lead to blood pressure to increase quickly again. With a positive attitude and by seeing your doctor regularly, you can beat high blood pressure.
By: Haseeb Nawaz, M.D.
Cardiovascular Fellow at Mercy St. Vincent Medical center