February is National Heart month! Continuing with all of the tips that I’ve already given you, I wanted to give you the hard and true facts about blood pressure. Many patients are confused about what their blood pressure means, risk factors for elevated blood pressure, and how to decrease your risk of developing high blood pressure, also known as hypertension (HTN).
High blood pressure is known as the “Silent Killer.” Its effects happen slowly and silently, but the results are instantaneous and deadly. Over time, the extra strain caused by HTN increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If not kept under control, high blood pressure can also cause heart and kidney disease, and studies have closely linked it to several forms of dementia.
Your blood pressure reading is measured with a blood pressure monitor – sphygmomanometer for those who want the medical term – and listening with a stethoscope. You may hear your healthcare provider say “Your blood pressure is 115 over 74, that’s good,” or “Your blood pressure is 130 over 92, that is a little high.” But what do these numbers mean?
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, the systolic pressure, which is the first and higher number of the two, and diastolic pressure, which is the second and lower number. You heart pumps blood through your arteries, capillaries, and veins. The resulting pressure of the blood against the arterial walls as the heart beats creates the systolic number. When your heart rests between beats, the blood in the circulatory system has a chance to disburse through the arteries to the network of capillaries and veins, which creates the second and lower number – the diastolic pressure. To understand how this affects your blood pressure, we first need to get into a little physics and apply the Bernoulli Principle and the Venturi Effect to the entire circulatory system. But that is for another post! If you are interested, there is a great overview here!
Systolic and diastolic blood pressure are measured in units of millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg. Getting back to when your healthcare provider says “Your blood pressure is 115 over 74, that’s good,” or “Your blood pressure is 130 over 92, that is a little high,” keep in mind that any reading below 120 mm Hg / 80 mm Hg is good and numbers over that threshold are a cause for concern.
Take a look at this graph that illustrates the various blood pressure categories and ranges for systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings:
Your blood pressure should be checked every time you see your health care provider and more frequently if you have pre-hypertension or hypertension. Keep track of your blood pressure card so that you and your healthcare provider can accurately assess your readings.
In most cases, the cause of high blood pressure is not known. However, there are many known risk factors. Some of the risk factors associated with HTN are ones you can control, while others are completely out of your control.
Risk Factors You CANNOT control:
- Your family history: Statistically speaking, you are more susceptible to high blood pressure if members of your family have it.
- Your age: The older you are, the more susceptible you are to high blood pressure. However, we are seeing a dramatic increase in high blood pressure amongst the younger demographics studied from ages 20 to 39.
- Gender ; Until age 54, men are more likely to get high blood pressure than women. From age 55-64, men and women get high blood pressure at similar rates and after the age of 65, women are more likely to get high blood pressure than men.
- Race : African-Americans tend to develop HTN more often than Caucasians, occurs at younger ages and tends to be more severe.
Risk Factors You CAN Control and Tips to Control Them:
- Your Exercise Habits: A sedentary or inactive lifestyle increases your risk of high blood pressure. Quick Tip: I recommend engaging in cardiovascular activity (walking, cycling, swimming, etc.) 3-4 times/week for 30-45 minutes each session.
- Your Diet: If your diet is high in sodium, saturated fats, and processed foods/sugars, you have seriously increased your risk of high blood pressure. Quick Tip: Eat a diet with healthy fats (avocados, salmon, walnuts) and 6-8 servings of fresh fruits/vegetables.
- Your Alcohol Intake: Alcohol has many adverse effects on the human body, including high blood pressure. Quick Tip: Limit the intake to the following – 1 drink/day for women, 2 drinks/day for men.
- Smoking/Tobacco Use: Need I say more?
- Stress: Stress when compounded with other bad habits is unhealthy. Quick Tip: Make a conscious effort to reduce your stress level – try yoga or weekly meditation class, go for a walk, or take a nap. Whatever you do to relieve stress, PUT THE TECHNOLOGY AWAY during that time!
- Sleep Apnea: While sleeping, tissues in the throat collapse and block your airway. Your brain then tries to wake you up by forcing mouthfuls of air down your throat. If you experience sleep apnea, it doesn’t happen just once a night, rather throughout your sleep. Waking up repeatedly causes sleep deprivation and results in severe fatigue. According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep deprivation can possibly cause high blood pressure. If you are noticing that you are waking up during the night and gulping for air, contact your healthcare provider to get involved with a sleep apnea study.
For many of my patients, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly will lower their blood pressure by a significant amount and help shed those extra 10-15 pounds, as well. Sometimes, changes in lifestyle are enough to regulate high blood pressure. For those who still have high blood pressure despite following all of the suggestions above, blood pressure medication may be required. Fortunately, there are many medications available to treat high blood pressure. Which is best for you will be determined by your healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss side effects and dosage instructions before starting any new medication. If you are seeing a new healthcare provider, assure they have and understand your complete medical profile. While I believe medication to be a last resort, if high blood pressure is left untreated, it can cause your heart to enlarge, work harder to deliver oxygen to your body, and leads to plaque deposition in your arteries (atherosclerosis). In addition, as stated previously, untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney damage, angina (chest pain related to heart disease) and many other serious conditions.
Remember, high blood pressure is a silent disease. Be sure to check your blood pressure at every medical visit.
In Health & Wellness,