Blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer.” How much do you really know about this common condition?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when the force of blood moving through the arteries is higher than normal. Your arteries carry blood from the heart to your organs and tissues. Most of the time, we don’t think about blood rushing through our bodies, but as pressure mounts in your arteries, it could lead to serious health problems.
Hypertension is often called the “silent killer,” because it develops over time and may not cause any acute symptoms right away. You may only notice symptoms until it has reached a dangerous level. That’s why it’s vital to get your blood pressure checked regularly by your doctor.
How is Blood Pressure Diagnosed?
Your doctor measures your blood pressure with a device that wraps around your upper arm and is pumped with air. The test shows two numbers expressed by millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The top number, or systolic pressure, indicates the pressure in the arteries as your heart beats. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, measures the pressure between heartbeats.
A reading of below 120/80 mmHg classifies as normal blood pressure. At the elevated or prehypertension stage, it would range from 120 to 129 mmHg for the top number.
Stage 1 hypertension is when the systolic pressure reaches 130 to 139 mmHg with a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 mmHg. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 47 percent of U.S. adults have hypertension that falls into this category.
A reading of 140 mmHg systolic pressure and a diastolic pressure of 90 mmHg or higher is considered Stage 2 — or a more severe case of hypertension. If you have a reading of 180/120 mmHg, you are suffering from a hypertensive crisis and require immediate medical attention.
You can measure your blood pressure with home devices, available for purchase at drugstores. However, those may not be as accurate as the ones in your doctor’s office. It is possible to sometimes show elevated blood pressure at the doctor’s office, a phenomenon known as white coat hypertension. To get a more accurate assessment of your blood pressure, your doctor may record your blood pressure throughout the day with a blood pressure monitor.
Regular monitoring will alert you and your doctor to your blood pressure status. Hypertension doesn’t cause any symptoms, even at an advanced stage, so knowing your numbers is the only way you and your doctor will know if you have dangerously high blood pressure. When you reach a serious hypertensive crisis, you may experience headaches, shortness of breath, or nosebleeds. However, those symptoms could be due to other conditions. Even so, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention if you experience those severe symptoms to determine if it’s caused by high blood pressure.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Primary hypertension develops over years and typically has no known attributable cause. It could be due to a number of lifestyle factors, including excess weight, a high-sodium diet, not being physically active, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. Advanced age and diabetes could also cause hypertension. Black non-Hispanic individuals and older adults over age 65 stand a greater risk of primary hypertension.
Another type of high blood pressure — secondary hypertension — could be attributed to certain conditions, such as kidney disease, sleep apnea, or side effects from medications.
How is Hypertension Treated?
Depending on your hypertensive stage, your doctor will recommend treatments, beginning with lifestyle changes. He or she may ask you to limit salt and alcohol intake, quit smoking, and increase your physical activity level to lose weight.
If those fail to lower your blood pressure, medications may be prescribed. Fortunately, a variety of high blood pressure medications are available to treat hypertenson. Your doctor will work with you to find one that works best for you and doesn’t cause side effects.
Untreated hypertension can lead to serious cardiovascular problems, including stroke, heart failure, and heart attack. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to cognitive deficits, such as memory loss and dementia, as well.
High blood pressure can be prevented and possibly reversed with lifestyle changes. Start by following these tips:
Reduce Sodium Intake. Ditching the salt shaker is just the start. Avoid prepared foods that tend to be high in sodium. The goal is to limit your salt consumption to 1,500 milligrams a day or less.
Eat a Heart Healthy Diet. Base your meals around the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. The DASH diet incorporates fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid food high in saturated fat and trans fat.
Exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. This can even be accomplished with a brisk walk.
Manage Stress. High stress levels impact your blood pressure. Reduce stress with meditation, yoga, or deep breathing techniques.
Quit Smoking. Cigarettes contain artery-damaging chemicals that allow the buildup of plaque, which consequently increases the pressure in the arteries. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs to finally break the cigarette habit for good.
Visit the Heart Specialists
Tri-City Cardiology has a team of specialists ready to take care of your heart. Hypertension, if caught early, is treatable and can improve your overall cardiovascular health. Contact us today for a consultation.