Identifying and Managing High Blood Pressure
Millions of people have high blood pressure or hypertension. It is the major treatable risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Yet only half of those with hypertension are being treated for it, and only half of those being treated have the disorder under control. What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the amount of force or push from the pumping of your heart that is required to circulate blood through your body. The heart produces this necessary force as it beats, or contracts, and then relaxes.
What do the numbers mean?
Two numbers are recorded when your blood pressure is taken. The number on top (systolic) measures the force of your heartbeat as blood is pushed from your heart into the blood vessels. The number on the bottom (diastolic) measures the “resting” pressure of the vessel walls when your heart relaxes between beats.
How is blood pressure defined?
“Normal” blood pressure is defined as less than 135/85. Optimal is 120/80. Your blood pressure is lowest in the morning and highest in the late afternoon, but blood pressure fluctuates considerably, even in people with normal blood pressure. If your blood pressure stays consistently above 130-139/85-89, you may have hypertension.
Why is high blood pressure dangerous?
Pressures higher than normal cause your heart to pump harder to circulate blood. In time, your heart muscle may fail from added strain. High blood pressure can also speed up the process called “hardening of the arteries” and injure blood vessels in your brain, kidneys and eyes. All this can lead to serious medical consequences including heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and blindness.
What factors affect blood pressure?
The major risk factors are family history, advancing age, being overweight, being sedentary and a high sodium and/or alcohol intake. Time of day, stress, smoking and other factors can also affect your blood pressure.
How can I tell if I have high blood pressure?
Blood pressure fluctuates and is affected by several factors, and hypertension offers no symptoms to warn you that your blood pressure is high. Thus, having your blood pressure checked regularly is the only way to tell if you have hypertension.
What is the treatment for high blood pressure?
Treatment of high blood pressure is a lifelong matter. Your doctor may prescribe some of the following:
- Lose weight. Extra weight puts an added burden on your heart. Even a weight loss of five pounds can lower your blood pressure, and losing weight can sometimes improve your hypertension enough so that you don't need medication.
- Exercise. Exercise helps prevent and treat hypertension. Aerobic exercises, such as walking, running and swimming can help you control your blood pressure and make you feel better, too. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking four or five times a week, can eventually make a difference – if you keep it up. Always discuss a new exercise program with your physician.
- Quit smoking. Because nicotine in tobacco smoke constricts blood vessels and boosts blood pressure, smoking puts you at serious risk of high blood pressure.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, grains, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
- Cut down on salt. The sodium in foods makes your body retain fluid, which raises your total volume of blood and hence may raise blood pressure. Putting away the saltshaker and eating fewer salty and processed foods may help bring blood pressure down, especially if you are a salt-sensitive person.
- Learn to relax. Yoga, meditation, biofeedback (measuring your blood pressure in real-time) and other methods of handling stress can help you lower your blood pressure.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. This means no more than one drink a day for woman or two a day for men.
- Medication. Your doctor may prescribe drug therapy. Most people who need a blood pressure medicine require lifelong treatment. Do not stop taking prescribed medicines without consulting your doctor first.
Remember: Have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you have high blood pressure, see your physician and follow his or her orders.