There are few things that get your pressure up like hearing the words "you have high blood pressure". It may not seem like a big deal, but high blood pressure (hypertension) is a life-altering diagnosis. It can be genetic or brought on by lifestyle choices. Either way, should you get this diagnosis it's time to focus on bringing it down, immediately. Hypertension can lead to organ failure, heart failure, or even death. Hypertension impacts African Americans more than any other racial group. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 48% of black women have some form of cardiovascular disease and 2 in 5 adults have high blood pressure; 1 in 3 adults have prehypertension. You know what else? High blood pressure costs the country $46 billion a year, including health care services, medication, and missed days of work.
How Does Blood Pressure Work?
Blood pressure is fairly easy to explain and is a lot like it sounds. It's the force of blood pushing against your artery walls. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart to the body, veins return blood back to the heart. In order to move blood through the entire body relatively quickly, the vessels constrict or tighten. Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day. For example, when we exercise our muscles require more oxygen. Blood supplies the oxygen, therefore blood must flow quickly and pressure goes up. This is why blood pressure is measured at rest. A normal blood pressure for a healthy adult is 120 mmHg/80 mmHg. Let's break that down. mmHg stands for millimeters (mm) of Mercury (Hg). The top number is systolic and measures the pressure when your heart beats (blood pushed out of the heart and through arteries). The bottom number is diastolic or when the vessels are at rest. Here's an easy way to remember this. Make a fist and squeeze, this is systolic; release the fist, this is diastolic. The brain (or central nervous system) and kidneys are responsible for regulating blood pressure.
When Does Blood Pressure Become Hypertension?
Hypertension is a fancy way of saying high blood pressure. There are typically no warning signs or symptoms of hypertension. Many people are walking around with hypertension and have no idea. But if you are getting regular check-ups or checking your pressure on your own you may be able to catch it in the prehypertension or at-risk stage. This is why anytime you see a medical professional they take your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is 120-139 mmHg/80-89 mmHg you are considered prehypertensive. If it's 140 mmHg or higher/90 mmHg or higher, you have high blood pressure. It can be temporary. For example, cold medicine can raise your blood pressure into the hypertensive zone. White Coat Syndrome can also raise your blood pressure. This phenomenon causes a person's blood pressure to rise simply by visiting the doctor or having their blood pressure taken. A doctor will look at several factors before diagnosing you with hypertension. Other factors include obesity, diabetes, lifestyle characteristics such as smoking, high-sodium diet, sedentary, etc.
You Have Hypertension, Now What?
Let's say you visit your doctor several times and they conclude you have hypertension. What next? Depending on how high your blood pressure is your doctor will prescribe medication or medical management. In the prehypertension zone, you may collectively decide to focus on lifestyle changes. Losing weight, a low-sodium diet, reducing stress and exercise may do the trick. If it's very high they will likely want to treat you medically. Hypertension, if left untreated, can lead to heart failure and/or widespread organ failure, stroke, or chronic kidney disease. Take it seriously. The first line of medical management is typically prescribing a diuretic. The pressure in arteries can be lowered by reducing the volume of blood by eliminating water and sodium through urine production. It seems counterintuitive, but you still need to drink plenty of water while on a diuretic. If that doesn't work, there are a series of drugs that help with regulating blood pressure such as ACE inhibitors, Beta blockers, antihypertensives, calcium channel blockers, and vasodilators. It's complicated which is why it's critical to partner with your physician. And never, ever stop taking your hypertension medications without consulting your physician. Stopping medication suddenly can cause as much harm as hypertension itself.
Take Control Of Your Blood Pressure
Of all of the chronic diseases that plague us, hypertension is among the most preventable and treatable. There are limitations to that. Some diseases can cause hypertension while some people are so genetically predisposed to it that lifestyle management won't fully control it. But as I say, genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger. Stay on top of your blood pressure by getting it checked regularly. You can do this through regular physician visits, using the blood pressure machine at the store, or by investing in a home-based device that connects to your smart phone. The old-fashioned cuff and pump model works well too. These are all inexpensive choices. Consider using the farmacy to eat your way to success. Basil, cinnamon, flaxseed, garlic, and ginger are among a few readily available herbs that are thought to help control blood pressure and contribute to overall cardiovascular health. Foods high in sodium or fat are thought to be a significant contributor to hypertension. Many swear by a plant-based or vegan diet. However, over time medical association guidance has wavered on this. Sodium causes the body to retain water. The more water, the higher the pressure. Be smart about how much sodium you eat through processed foods. Get plenty of exercise, walking counts. Meditating for at least 10 minutes a day has been shown to be beneficial to reduce stress and lower blood pressure over time and in the moment.
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