Hypertension or High Blood Pressure is a very common condition and the older you are the more likely you are to get it.  Sometimes the most common things are things we understand the least.  Let us take a good look at High Blood Pressure. What High Blood Pressure is, and what you can do to prevent it or manage it.

What it is:

Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against the walls of your arteries as the blood flows through your body.  When it gets hard for the blood to move through your arteries, your heart has to pump harder and it puts a strain on your heart.  This effort also puts more pressure on the walls of the arteries and can cause damage to the arteries.  Over time, the damage can lead to heart disease, stroke, and/or kidney damage.

High blood pressure is often called the silent killer, as it does not always produce symptoms to let you know that the pressure may be building. You could have it for years, slowly damaging your heart, lungs, arteries, blood vessels, brain, and kidneys.  It is a major cause of strokes and heart attacks.

How to measure and monitor it:

Taking your blood pressure reading is a good way to monitor your situation.   Blood pressure is measured using two numbers.  A normal reading will be below 120/80 (read as 120 over 80), the top number (systolic) reflects the pressure to your arteries when your heart beats (pumps).  The lower number (diastolic) measures the pressure when your heart is at rest between heartbeats.  A blood pressure reading above the norm is a warming sign.

There are various stages to Hypertension:

Stage 1:    Systolic reading is 130-139 and diastolic is 80-89

Stage 2:    Systolic reading is 140+ and diastolic is 90+

Hypertensive Crisis:

Systolic is 180+ and diastolic is 120+ which can lead to a stroke, heart attack, or kidney damage.  (If this is your reading, sit and rest for a few minutes and take the reading again.  If it is still that high call 911 immediately)

Who gets it:

Up to age 45, men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women are.  This evens out as we grow older and by 65, it is more common in women.  You are more likely to get it if a close family member has high blood pressure and it is more common among people with diabetes. In most cases, the cause is unknown. African-Americans are more likely to get hypertension and at a younger age.  Although rare, children can also suffer from high blood pressure especially if they are overweight.

How to minimize the risk:

Avoid Sodium:

Eating too much salt causes your body to retain fluid putting a greater burden on your heart and increasing blood pressure.  Aim for less than 2,500 mg of sodium a day.  Check nutritional labels of food, avoid fast food, canned soups, and processed meats.

Manage and Decrease Stress:

Stress can make your blood pressure spike.  To help manage stress avoid alcohol, a poor diet, and smoking.  Increase your activity level, and find ways to relax such as through mediation, and reading.

Lose Weight:

Being overweight will put stress on your heart and increase your chances of getting high blood pressure. Avoid fatty foods, cut out extra sugars, and focus on eating vegetables, fruits, lean protein and fibre.

Cut back on Alcohol:

Too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure.  Limit drinks to no more than two a day for men and 1 for a woman.

Some Medications Raise Blood Pressure:

Some cold and flu medications with decongestants are one of several medications that can raise blood pressure. Other include NSAID pain relievers, steroids, diet pills, birth control pills, and some antidepressants.  Talk to your doctor about your medications and how they may affect your blood pressure

There are various medications you can use to help manage high blood pressure including diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, ARBs and Calcium Channel Blockers. If you are concerned about possibly having high blood pressure talk to your doctor to determine what the best course of action is for you.  Hypertension is a lifelong condition that can be safely managed through medications, diet, and activity and lifestyle changes.