What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a chronic, but manageable health condition. Although there is no “cure” for high blood pressure, there are many steps that can be taken to control it and prevent further complications. High blood pressure occurs when the force or “pressure” of the blood flowing through the arteries is above normal levels. When that happens, the heart must work harder to circulate the blood through-out the body, which causes stress on the arteries. If left untreated over time, the continuing stress on the heart and arteries can contribute to a number of serious and potentially life-threatening health problems.
Among the many problems attributable to high blood pressure are:
Stroke– Stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain gets clogged or bursts, which can result in paralysis or death. People with hypertension are up to seven times more likely to have a stroke than those without the condition.
Congestive Heart Failure- This problem occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body’s other organs. Although the heart might continue working, a person experiencing heart failure may develop shortness of breath and swelling throughout the body.
Heart Attack- With high blood pressure you are three times more likely to develop coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart is severely reduced or stopped. Over a prolonged period of time, the muscle can suffer irreversible injury, resulting in disability or death.
Other problems attributable to unmanaged hyper-tension include kidney failure, damage to the eyes and hardening of the arteries. The key to preventing all of these serious conditions is early diagnosis and careful monitoring and management.
In 90 to 95 percent of all high blood pressure cases, the cause is unknown. However, there are several key risk factors that either alone, or in combination, are associated with the disease. They include:
Race- African Americans on average are more likely to develop high blood pressure than Caucasians.
Heredity – If your parents or close relatives have high blood pressure, you are more likely to develop it.
Age- High blood pressure occurs most often in people over 35. The older you get, the higher your risk.
Obesity- Weight in excess of 30 percent of a person’s ideal bodyweight.
Salt– A diet that is high in sodium.
Alcohol- Heavy and regular use of alcohol.
Lack of Exercise- Inactivity can contribute to being overweight and lead to high blood pressure.
Stress- Although difficult to measure, a stressful lifestyle can also increase risk.
Unfortunately, there are no true “symptoms” of high blood pressure. Many people can have the condition without knowing it. In fact, it is estimated that one out of four American adults have high blood pressure, yet 30 percent of them have not been diagnosed.
That is why it is so important to visit your doctor at least once a year to have your blood pressure checked. The sooner hypertension is diagnosed, the better the chances are of controlling the condition and limiting any associated complications.
In almost all cases, hypertension can be managed and the health risks controlled through a combination of medication and simple lifestyle changes. For example:
See your doctor- Only a doctor can properly diagnose the condition and prescribe a course of action to control high blood pressure.
Diet- To help control your weight, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and limit the amount of fats you eat, particularly saturated fats. People with hypertension should also limit their intake of sodium (salt). Your doctor and a dietician can work with you to determine a diet that best suits your health needs.
Smoking – Cigarettes and other tobacco products constrict blood vessels, make your heart beat faster and cause blood pressure to rise, resulting in damage to the walls of your arteries.
Exercise- Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, three to four times a week can help you lose weight, control your cholesterol level, reduce stress and decrease the health risks associated with high blood pressure.
NOTE: Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Medication- There are many drugs available that work to reduce hypertension. Some rid the body of excess water and sodium; some open narrowed blood vessels and others prevent blood vessels from constricting. Regardless of what type of medication your doctor prescribes, it is up to you to learn all of the facts about your medication, including how to store it, when to take it, what the side effects are, and how it reacts with other medications. Most importantly, you must remember to take your medication according to the prescribed schedule.
Whether you have high blood pressure or not, it is important to have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. It is quick, easy and inexpensive. There is no other way to know if you have hypertension and whether what you are doing is having the desired effect.