One in four Americans has hypertension. Alarming to think about, I know, but what if I told you it might be entirely preventable in most cases? To succeed in keeping your blood pressure in check, you must first familiarize yourself with the term and what it means for your body
By definition, in the most basic terms, it is the state of abnormally high blood pressure, usually brought on by a stressor, psychological or physical. Medications for this condition is at an all-time high. If it remains uncontrolled, it will wreak havoc on every system in your body.
Over the last several years, science, and more importantly, medical practitioners have begun to take notice and work to find ways to reduce the number of people diagnosed with it. The Department of Health and Human Services has even taken up the cause to reverse or prevent hypertension altogether. Their Million Hearts initiative aims to prevent the effects of high blood pressure, like heart attacks and strokes.
Why these numbers continue to rise in due in part to many factors. Lifestyle choices are to blame primarily. Lack of exercise, high-fat diets, alcohol use, tobacco use, high sodium diets, consuming fat-rich foods and highly processed foods all play a part in whether or not we’ll develop hypertension. That being said, there are other factors known as secondary conditions that play a role in causing high blood pressure.
Kidney disease has been known to be associated with hypertension. Also, medication use may also play a part. By itself, high blood pressure might not cause accompanying conditions but may play a role in the narrowing of blood vessels and arteries, which will, in turn, lead to more complications in the body.
Unlike many disease processes, you may not experience overt signs or symptoms until it’s too late. Fortunately, however, there are readily available means of measuring your blood pressure. Many big box stores and chain pharmacies have blood pressure machines. While these devices are convenient, they may not be entirely reliable, but they can alert you to possible problems that you should address with your physician.
Once you’ve addressed it and had it measured and monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, you’ll be relieved to know that there are steps you can take to help lower your risks or lower your existing high blood pressure. For instance, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing hypertension. Conversely, being overweight can dramatically increase the probability of developing high blood pressure. Losing weight can reverse that. Even losing a small amount of weight (most doctors recommend a five to ten percent weight loss initially) can yield positive results in the right direction.
As with many conditions, getting regular exercise can make a huge difference. Not only does it lower your risk of getting high blood pressure, but it also lowers your risk of being diagnosed with many other ailments. Any regular exercise is good. It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise. Following the recommended physical activity regimen for your age range and your level of fitness is enough to have a positive impact.
Drinking in moderation can help prevent high blood pressure. That’s not to say to start drinking if you don’t now, but if you’re someone who enjoys the occasional glass of wine or the occasional spirit, make sure that you drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day. Women should limit their alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day.
Limit your salt (sodium) intake. Read labels. Be mindful of what you’re eating and drinking. Many patients have found that just by eliminating salt or greatly reducing the amount they consume, they’ve managed to keep their blood pressure under control.
Lastly, another preventative option is to reduce stress. Letting stress build up over time can have detrimental effects on you physically and psychologically. Many find that meditation, yoga, walking, running or reading are great stress reducers. Find an activity that works for you and reap the benefits of taking care of yourself mind, body, and soul. Your blood pressure will thank you for it.
By Joaquin N. Diego, MD, FCCP, FACC