Managing Your Blood Pressure
There are plenty of things that can cause your blood pressure to spike, like taking your daughter out for her first drive or the Phillies being down a run in the bottom of the ninth. But for those of you who have high blood pressure on a constant basis, it can be a serious condition that can lead to major health issues if left untreated.
Blood pressure, which is determined by measuring the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries, can either help you or hurt you. In healthy individuals, a normal blood pressure range actually helps prevent the blood vessel walls from becoming damaged or stretched out.
What is Normal Blood Pressure?
When you have your blood pressure taken, the results are given to you as a ratio such as 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The systolic pressure (the top number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The diastolic pressure (the bottom number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxing i.e., in between beats.
According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure has a systolic pressure less than 120 and a diastolic pressure less than 80.
What is High Blood Pressure?
For those with high blood pressure, the heart begins pumping an increasing amount of blood, creating a force that pushes on the arterial walls that ultimately damages them. As a result, the damaged walls can lead to health problems such as heart damage or failure, vascular scarring, blood clots, plaque build-up and tissue and organ damage.
While most of these conditions often develop gradually, it can cause permanent damage to your heart, brain, eyes and kidneys or lead to kidney failure, stroke or even a heart attack.
What Causes High Blood Pressure
The most common conditions that contribute to high blood pressure include:
- Being overweight
- A lack of exercise and physical activity
- Excessive sodium intake
- Drinking too much alcohol
Other risk factors can include family history, age and even race. According to the National Kidney Foundation, African Americans have high blood pressure more often and more severely than White Americans.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms
Most people with high blood pressure will not experience any signs or symptoms. As a result, many people with high blood pressure are unaware they have it until it has progressed and harmed other parts of the body. Currently, there are 76.4 million American adults who have been diagnosed with hypertension, but only 69 percent of them receive treatment.
Typically, only those with severe hypertension will show symptoms, which include dull headaches, dizzy spells or nosebleeds.
How to Lower Blood Pressure
If you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or if you want to try and prevent it, here’s what you can do:
Modify Your Diet
First and foremost, you need to limit your sodium intake. A healthy amount is 2,400 milligrams a day for the average person and 1,500 mg a day for those 51 and older. Be sure to read nutrition labels and check the sodium content on packaged food items. You should also embrace a diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber, potassium and Vitamin D. The DASH diet is great for those currently managing or hoping to prevent hypertension, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy products, whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts and beans.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you have a BMI over 25, which is considered the average health range or if your waist measurement is over 35 inches (women) or 40 inches (men), you may benefit from weight loss. The more you weigh, the more blood is needed to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues.
Those who don’t engage in regular physical activity generally have a higher blood pressure rate than those who do. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day.
Those who smoke, chew or even breathe in tobacco from secondhand smoke are more likely to experience high blood pressure. The chemicals in tobacco can also damage the lining of the artery walls, causing them to narrow.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
To boost your health, limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, to help relieve stress that can cause your blood pressure to spike.
Take Prescribed Medications
If your doctor has prescribed medication for abnormal blood pressure, take as directed.
If you have questions or concerns about your blood pressure, call your primary care provider to have your blood pressure checked.