Your blood pressure is a measure of how much pressure is exerted against your arteries and your organs by the blood being pumped by your heart. The higher the pressure, the harder your heart has to work. Hypertension is diagnosed when someone’s systolic blood pressure (top number) is consistently greater than 140, or their diastolic pressure (bottom number) is consistently greater than 90. This doesn’t mean that if you have a single reading that is high, you have hypertension. But if you do have such a reading, you should be monitored to make sure it comes back to normal.
There are some instances in which hypertension can be caused by another treatable problem, but about 95% of diagnosed people have essential hypertension, which often has no one identifiable cause. In these cases, there are a number of lifestyle choices that can be made to lower blood pressure, and in many instances, blood pressure medications will be needed. What is important to remember is that hypertension is a chronic illness. There are usually no symptoms, so there will be no warnings if it goes uncontrolled. Once you are diagnosed, it is essential to follow your doctor’s advice, continue a healthy lifestyle, and take your medications as prescribed for the rest of your life.
There are many things that contribute to hypertension – some factors you cannot control, while others you can. For instance, it is more common in men than women, more common in African American men, as well as older adults. Sometimes, hypertension can also be genetic, or hereditary. Obviously, these are things that you can’t control. However, being overweight or obese, being inactive, smoking, eating a diet high in sodium, and stress all contribute to hypertension; and these are things that you can control.
So what can you do to ensure that your blood pressure is under control? First, make sure that you have regular checkups with your doctor. Since hypertension often goes undiagnosed, this is an important step in catching it early. Then, if you are found to have high blood pressure, take a look at the things that you can change in your life.
Your diet can have a great influence on your blood pressure. If your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 25, you should plan to lose weight. Try to eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grain foods. Also limit the high fat foods, including meats. Fish is a great source of protein without all the fat that many cuts of beef contain. Stay away from fast food and limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks per day. You should also limit the amount of caffeine you consume, restricting coffee to less than 2 cups per day. Also, make sure you lower your sodium intake. Anything canned, frozen, boxed or processed will tend to have more sodium. It is important to read labels, but fresh food is always a better choice. Make sure to also avoid foods high in sodium such as olives, soy sauce, Chinese food, bacon, and condiments. And put that saltshaker away!
In addition to diet, exercise will not only help you lose weight, but will help to keep your blood pressure regular. The recommendation is for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. If you are not active, start slow. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, and walking is a great place to start. If you can’t tolerate 30 minutes per day, start with 10 or 15, but increase the time just a little each day until you meet your goal. And if you are a smoker, take a look at what that does, and stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about this, because there are ways to help you kick the habit.
If you still have a blood pressure over 140/90 after making changes to your lifestyle, it may be time to start on medication. Your doctor will determine which medication will be of most benefit. Sometimes you may need more than one prescription, but it is very important that you take all the medication as prescribed, every day. Remember, hypertension often has no symptoms; it is quietly doing damage to your heart and other organs. So don’t think that because you feel fine, that you don’t need your medication any more. If you have any concerns, discuss them with your doctor. It is also a good idea to monitor your blood pressure at home from time to time, and keep a log to bring to your doctor visits.
Finally, even if you are vigilant about your lifestyle, and about taking your medications, there may be times when your blood pressure is high enough to require emergency treatment. If you have a blood pressure higher than 180/110, or if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness, weakness, vision changes, problems speaking, or a severe headache, you should go to the emergency room or call 911.
If you would like to learn more about hypertension, you can visit the website of the American Heart Association. Advanced Medical has the caring and attentive medical staff you need to help monitor and treat conditions such as high blood pressure. Call today at (561) 434-1935 to schedule an appointment, or book an appointment online.