High blood pressure—or hypertension—is one of the most prevalent health issues affecting Americans’ quality of life.
The blood’s pressure is a measurement reading of the amount of force the heart generates while pumping blood through the arteries. There are two numbers involved in the reading of blood pressure, systolic and diastolic.
The systolic number is listed first and it represents the amount of force expended by the heart as it fills the blood vessels. Diastolic pressure, on the other hand, is a quantification of the resistance to that force. When taken together, the systolic and diastolic numbers provide an indication of how successful your heart is at getting the blood to the tissues in your body.
Hypertension is indicated when the blood pressure reading is consistently above 140/90 mm Hg (milligrams of mercury). A blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg is considered to be a normal blood pressure reading
Hypertension is an “excess” state to be in. It is unhealthy and stresses the flow of blood to important organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys. When left untreated, hypertension leaves the body in an excessive state of undue stress and can cause stroke, heart attack, arterial aneurysm, hardening of the arteries or kidney failure. All of these conditions are potentially life threatening.
The scariest thing about hypertension is that it can kill without showing initial signs of being present. In fact, it has been described as “the silent killer,” especially since its symptoms include headache, blurry vision and dizziness. But these are general symptoms and not specific only to high blood pressure, which is why it is often detected too late. And when hypertension is present with other conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, it is nearly impossible to treat.
Western bio-medicine has developed some fine drugs for treating hypertension. These include diuretics, angiotensin converting enzymes, angiotensin receptor blockers, alpha blockers, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and vasodilators. These pharmaceuticals respectively increase the elimination of sodium, inhibit the hormones that cause blood pressure to rise, alter the involuntary nervous system to force a decrease in pressure, reduce blood vessel constriction and dilate arteries to decrease overall pressure.
The problem with prescription medications is they are often used too late, more than one are generally used in combination, they must be taken for the remainder of one’s life and are only prescribed “after the fact.” The best way to avoid the health risks of hypertension is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
High blood pressure does have a genetic component so people whose parents have it are more likely to get it. Men are also more likely to develop it at an earlier age than women. And blacks are more likely candidates than are Caucasians to develop it.
However, lifestyle choices play a major role in the development of hypertension over the course of one’s life. This means that we have the ability to both cause and prevent this condition. Here’s what you need to know:
- Obese and overweight people are at a higher risk. It has been repeatedly shown that losing weight can lower your blood pressure by about 5 mm Hg per 10 pounds of weight loss.
- High sodium intake puts you at risk. Your kidneys simply can’t process excessive salt consumption. Reduce your salt and your blood pressure will also reduce.
- Alcohol is another villain in the hypertension equation. It has been shown that consuming more than three drinks per day will increase your pressure. If this is your case, reduce your consumption and the pressure will also reduce.
- Smokers place themselves at risk every time they inhale a cancer stick. Smoking temporarily elevates blood pressure by 5 mm Hg to 10 mm Hg for about a half-hour. If you smoke a pack a day, and already have high blood pressure, you are exponentially increasing your risk of death.
- Exercising is one of the best options for curing this disease. Lack of exercise increases not only your risk of hypertension, but also of developing obesity and heart disease. So exercise, shed some weight, release some endorphins and reduce that blood pressure.
Prevention is the best medicine. Take control and live a happy, healthy life.
—Dr. Mark Wiley