High blood pressure is often referred to as a “silent killer” since many people may have no symptoms they can easily notice. Over 50 million people suffer from high blood pressure, but nearly one third aren’t even aware of it. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease, the nations’ number one killer.
Those who do experience the symptoms of high blood pressure have headackes, feel dizzy and sometimes nosebleeds. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms are felt, blood pressure is dangerously high. But many people with uncontrolled high blood pressure never have any of these symptoms.
Blood pressure is the force of the blood through your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your circulatory system. Blood pressure is reported as a fraction, with one number over the other. The top number, called the “systolic” pressure, is the force when your heart contracts, the bottom number, called the “diastolic” pressure, is the pressure when you hear relaxes between beats.
High blood pressure can result from several factors. The heart itself can impact blood pressure. The heart muscles itself can enlarge, causing higher pressure of blood exiting the heart. Cardiomyopathy or enlargement of the heart muscle also increases blood pressure. Excess weight makes your heart work harder to pump blood through the body.
Extra fluid in your circulatory system as a result of lots of salt intake, kidney problems or other medical conditions also puts a higher demand on the heart. Increased blood volume also causes more constriction within the blood vessels, translating into higher blood pressure.
The blood vessels play an important role in your blood pressure. Usually, the arteries are elastic and can expand and contract in rhythm with the hearts pumping action. High cholesterol and the plaques that form cause the arteries to lose their elasticity. Each time the heart pumps, the vessel can no longer stretch, and a higher pressure is created. Just think about what happens if you step on a garden hose.
Smoking constricts, or tightens your blood vessels, pushing the blood pressure even higher. Some medications you take such as steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), nasal decongestants and other cold remedies, diet pills, cyclosporine, erythropoetin, tricyclic antidepressants and a type of anti-depressant called monoamine oxidase inhibitors can also contribute to increased BP. Oral contraceptive, which are hormones, can raise blood pressure and should be used cautiously and carefully monitored in patients with HTN.
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor will most likely order additional test to determine the cause of your elevated blood pressure. He or she will also recommend more frequent visits to monitor you. For moderate hypertension, lifestyle changes may be enough to normalize blood pressure.
One of the first things you can do is change your way of eating to avoid sodium or salt, and lower your fat intake. The National Institutes of Health's DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods and low in total and saturated fat. The DASH diet also reduces red meat, sweets, and sugary drinks, and it's rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein.
Increasing physical activity can help to lower your blood pressure. You should be doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, your risk of complications can be reduced. If you are overweight, starting a weigh loss plan can also help bring your blood pressure into the normal range.
If dietary and lifestyle changes alone don't normalize your blood pressure, the next step is medication. If your doctor recommend medication, it is vital that you take it exactly as directed. Because most people don’t notice any symptoms of hypertension, even if you are feeling well, it is crucial to stick to your medication regimen. Never stop taking medication without discussing it with your healthcare team, even if you feel fine.