Managing high blood pressure

by Karen Bowen

Driving down the road, you can monitor the pressure systems in your rig by reading the gauges on the dash. During a physical, you can monitor the pressure in your circulatory system by reading the gauge on the blood pressure cuff. Understanding the readings on these gauges and responding appropriately can help you avoid breakdowns.

When taking blood pressure, two numbers are recorded – a high number (systolic pressure) which measures the force felt by your artery walls as your heart pumps blood through the artery; and a low number (diastolic pressure) which measures the force felt by your arteries between heartbeats when your heart is relaxed. Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps, along with the amount of resistance that blood encounters while traveling in the blood vessels throughout your body. A blood pressure reading of 120/80 is considered ideal; if these numbers increase, so does your risk for heart disease.

A higher volume of blood combined with a narrowing of the arteries’ interior passage leads to high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure is divided into two categories: primary (essential) hypertension and secondary hypertension. Primary hypertension just tends to gradually develop over the years and has no identifiable cause. Secondary hypertension appears suddenly and can be brought on by prescription medications, illegal drugs and/or medical conditions.

Frequent triggers include: birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, certain prescription drugs, over-the-counter pain medication, cocaine, amphetamines, chronic alcohol use, sleep apnea, kidney and thyroid problems and/or adrenal gland tumors.

Although there are many risk factors for high blood pressure, the following are most common: Family history – high blood pressure tends to run in families. Age – your risk increases as you age (most often diagnosed in men around 45 years and women around 65 years). Ethnicity – African Americans commonly develop high blood pressure earlier than Caucasians, accompanied by earlier heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. Chronic conditions – sleep apnea and kidney disease. Weight – the more tissue comprising your body, the more blood required to feed the tissue. As blood volume increases, the pressure exerted on the artery walls increases accordingly. Inactivity – inactive people usually have a higher heart rate, which puts strain on their heart and arteries.

Habits can also increase your risk. Tobacco – smoking or chewing tobacco temporarily spikes your blood pressure; chemicals in tobacco damage the interior walls of the arteries. (Second-hand smoke has the same effect). Too much salt – since excess salt causes your body to retain fluid, it also raises blood pressure. Not enough potassium – since potassium helps maintain an appropriate salt balance in the cells, too little potassium can lead to too much salt in your blood. Not enough vitamin D – since vitamin D impacts an enzyme produced by the kidneys that helps maintain blood pressure. Alcohol – since heavy drinking (two or more drinks a day for men and one or more drinks a day for women) can cause heart damage. Current stress can also cause a temporary blood pressure increase.

High blood pressure is considered a silent killer because it develops over time with no obvious symptoms. Although some people experience dull headaches and/or increased nose bleeds, these symptoms often only appear when that person’s blood pressure is so high it is life-threatening.

As a result, people with undiagnosed, chronic hypertension may unknowingly develop these serious health issues: hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) which may lead to heart attack or stroke; a bulge in your artery (aneurysm) which could burst under pressure, causing serious complications or death; thickened blood vessel walls which make your heart pump harder, leading to heart failure; narrowed, weakened blood vessels in the kidneys which may decrease kidney function; narrowed, weakened blood vessels in the eyes which may cause blindness; inefficient circulation to the brain which may impact your cognitive abilities to remember, learn and reason.

You can identify blood pressure concerns early by keeping a log. Use the reading from your most recent mandatory physical as a baseline. Then monthly, utilize the free the blood pressure monitoring stations available at the many retail locations that fill prescriptions, such as Wal-Mart, grocery stores, and drug stores. Note any blood pressure changes. A systolic reading increase of 10 is significant and should be reported to your doctor.

If you are diagnosed with hypertension, help keep your blood pressure under control by making changes in your lifestyle.

Reduce your salt intake. Increase the proportions and varieties of healthy foods in your diet: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods.

Choose foods with more potassium, such as: yam, dried apricots, almonds, pistachios avocados, and bananas. Eat more fibre, but less fat.

Maintain a healthy weight. Be physically active for 30 minutes a day. Limit your alcohol consumption. Manage stress. Avoid smoking. Monitor your blood pressure. If prescribed, take medication.Help your blood to just go with the flow.


Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at

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