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High Blood Pressure Overview

Most people know that high blood pressure is unhealthy, but many do not have a working knowledge of what blood pressure is, its role in their overall health, and what the dangers are. Below we provide an overview of blood pressure, and its effect on health.

What Is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure exerted on the walls of the blood vessels caused by blood flow. Most people have had their blood pressure taken because it is one of the main vital signs that discloses a lot of information about a person’s health. High blood pressure is also known as hypertension.

There are two types of blood pressure readings; systolic and diastolic. The systolic reading measures the blood pressure as the heart contracts. The diastolic reading measures pressure when the heart is relaxed. Systolic readings are higher because it measures maximum pressure while diastolic pressure is lower because it measures minimum pressure.

Blood Pressure Readings
Blood pressure readings vary according to several factors:
    •    Age 
    •    Health 
    •    Physical activity 
    •    Diet 
    •    Stimulant intake (caffeine, prescription drugs, vitamins, supplements, etc,) 

So what is a healthy blood pressure? The American Heart Association (AHA) details what the readings mean in the following table:
    •    Normal: Systolic (upper #) – less than 120 Diastolic (lower #) less than 80 
    •    Pre-hypertension: Systolic 120-139, Diastolic 80-89 
    •    High Blood Pressure Stage 1: Systolic 140-159, Diastolic 90-99 
    •    High Blood Pressure Stage 2: Systolic 160+, Diastolic 100+ 
    •    Hypertension Crisis: Systolic: 180+, Diastolic 110+

Risks Associated With High Blood Pressure
The risk of high blood pressure can easily be explained in an analogy. Our veins are similar to the pipes in an underground sprinkler system. Our blood is like the water that flows through those pipes. The PVC pipes under the ground are only built to withstand a certain amount of pressure before they break.
If water pressure exceeds the pipes’ capacity they can rupture. The same thing can happen to our blood vessels if the pressure is too great. The result can be a heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, heart failure and more.
    •    Artery damage – high blood pressure left unchecked can damage the lining of the arteries. This eventually leads to the walls becoming thick and stiff. The arteries eventually become dangerously narrow causing decreased blood flow to the major organs and body parts. The result can be heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, eye damage and death. 
    •    Aneurysm – an aneurysm is a bulge in the artery caused by intense pressure to the arterial walls. The bulge can eventually rupture causing dangerous internal bleeding. Aneurysms are most common in the aorta which is the body’s largest artery located in the heart. 
    •    Coronary heart disease – this disease affects arteries that give blood to the heart. Arteries damaged by coronary heart disease block blood flow which causes heart attacks and irregular heart rhythms. 
    •    Heart failure – high blood pressure over time can cause the heart to weaken to the point that it just gives out and stops functioning properly. 
    •    Stroke – a stroke is caused by the brain being starved of oxygen, which leads to brain cells being destroyed. High blood pressure that is left unchecked may cause a stroke by damaging the brain’s blood vessels. They eventually become narrow and weak which leads to a rupture in the brain. 
    •    Kidney failure – high blood pressure is the most common cause of kidney failure. This occurs by damage caused to the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys. Damage to these blood vessels lead to the kidneys inability to filter waste from the blood. 

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
There are several symptoms of high blood pressure. One of the dangers is the symptoms can be attributed to many other things. Most people are not aware they have high blood pressure until they have it measured by their health care provider.
The most common symptoms include:
    •    Headache 
    •    Dizziness 
    •    Blurry vision 
    •    Shortness of breath 

People who experience these symptoms should see their physician immediately. High blood pressure is caused by a variety of bad habits such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and drinking. It is also very hereditary so it can affect people who live an active lifestyle and eat healthy.

High Blood Pressure Treatment Options – Lifestyle Changes
There are a variety of high blood pressure treatment options. The first thing a physician or health care provider will recommend is lifestyle changes. Some of the most common high blood pressure lifestyle changes include:
    •    Losing weight – this includes an active exercise regimen and healthy diet. Losing weight and strengthening the heart can result in a dramatic drop in blood pressure. Doctors recommend at least 90 minutes per week of cardiovascular exercise. Foods should include lean protein, vegetable, fruit, and whole grains. 
    •    Stop smoking – smoking fills the body with toxins that cause the heart and all other organs to be stressed. Smoking does not directly cause high blood pressure – it seriously compounds the problem. 
    •    Reduce sodium – sodium has been found to increase hypertension. Doctors recommend reducing sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. 
    •    Reduction in caffeine – it is best to consume no more than one cup of coffee per day. Energy drinks and pills should also be avoided. 
High Blood Pressure Treatment Options – Medication
Studies show that high blood pressure is often hereditary. That means a healthy diet and exercise may not be enough to mitigate high blood pressure symptoms. There are several types of high blood pressure medications designed to combat hypertension. It is important to inform your doctor of other medications you are on when choosing a high blood pressure medication. Also, some people with specific medical problems should avoid certain high blood pressure medicine.

A diuretic is often the first medication a doctor would recommend. Once the high blood pressure is under control people can often go off of it.  See your health care provider immediately if you suspect you have high blood pressure.

Suzanne Somers

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