How to Lower High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is often a symptomless disease, silently sneaking into millions of adult lives and presenting a real threat to their health. While high blood pressure, or hypertension, is serious, it is also manageable. Here’s what you need to know about how to lower high blood pressure.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is a measurement of the amount of force against your blood vessels and arteries as it is pumped through your body. It is measured by two numbers: systolic and diastolic pressure. When you are given the results of your measurement, they will read the systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure. For instance: 120/80.
The clinical presentation is called hypertension, which is a condition that, according to the CDC, affects about one out of every three adults. In many cases, the exact cause of hypertension cannot be determined. If this is the case, it is called essential hypertension. In other instances, there is at least one underlying cause of hypertensive disease. The leading known causes for hypertension include:
- Older age
- Dietary factors
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Gender or race
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Genetic predisposition
- Kidney, adrenal, or thyroid disorders
Dangers of Hypertension
Hypertension is more than just a number. It’s also a predictor of your chances of developing more serious diseases as a result of chronic elevated pressure. The most serious dangers of hypertension occur as a result of a long standing, chronic issue regulating blood pressure, although blood pressure may elevate suddenly to unusually high levels. This is a condition known as a hypertensive crisis.
A history of hypertension means you are more likely to suffer from certain, serious health conditions. People with chronic hypertension are at a greater risk of:
- Heart attacks. Over time, it damages arteries to the point that blood flow to the heart becomes blocked.
- Heart failure. Hypertension causes the heart to work harder to pump blood through your system. The extra stress on your heart can cause enlargement and cardiac failure.
- Stroke. Another potential risk of increased pressure in blood vessels and arteries is the potential for them to clog or burst. When this happens in the brain, it is called a stroke.
- Peripheral artery disease. Hypertension can result in narrowing of arteries throughout the torso, legs, arms and head.
- Visual impairment. The increased pressure on blood vessels in the eyes can lead to vision problems.
- Erectile dysfunction. High blood pressure is a known contributor to erectile dysfunction in men.
- Kidney disease. Chronically elevated blood pressure levels can interfere with the kidney’s ability to function properly.
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Risk Factors and Signs of Hypertension
How do you know if you have high blood pressure? Hypertension is a medical disease that requires a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. An official diagnosis is generally given after blood pressure has been monitored over several occasions, with an evident pattern of elevation with no immediate cause.
Upon diagnosis a doctor will do a further evaluation to determine if a cause for elevated blood pressure can be found. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of causes for hypertension that put you at a greater risk of developing the disease. The risk of hypertension increases with age, along with other lifestyle factors including a diet that is high in processed foods and sodium, being overweight or obese, smoking or drinking and having a family history of hypertensive disease.
The signs of hypertension are not always easy to spot and are often attributed to other causes. In fact, you might not notice any symptoms at all if your blood pressure falls into the prehypertensive range. A serious elevation in blood pressure can cause headaches, vision problems, fatigue, an irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing and chest pain. If you experience any of these symptoms contact your doctor to determine if immediate medical care is necessary.
Treating High Blood Pressure
There is more than one approach to treating high blood pressure and it is important to speak with your health care professional about your individual risk profile and whether medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of both therapies is best suited for your individual case. As with all serious medical issues, it is important to make these decisions with the advice and counsel of a qualified medical provider.
Because of the potential effects, many medical professionals are quick to prescribe medications first to lower blood pressure and then work on lifestyle factors that may be contributing to the condition as forms of complementary therapy. There are a number of medications that may be prescribed to treat hypertension. These include thiazide diuretics, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin II receptor blockers, alpha-beta blockers and sometimes vasodilators, although this list is not exhaustive.
While these medications are effective in many cases, they also come with known side effects. In most cases, the side effects of medications are generally mild and do not have a significant impact on daily quality of life. Common side effects include:
- Digestive upset
- Nausea or vomiting
- Cough or respiratory issues
- Erectile dysfunction
- Skin rash
- Weight fluctuations
If you notice any severe side effects of your medication or are concerned about the way you are feeling, do not stop using your medication without first talking to your doctor.
Medications are not the only therapy for hypertension. In less severe cases, your physician may recommend lifestyle changes as a first line of treatment, only moving to medications if levels cannot be controlled naturally. In almost every case, a doctor will ask you to make lifestyle changes. In contrast to medications, lifestyle changes do not generally come with unpleasant side effects and work to improve your health overall. A doctor may suggest that you make changes that include:
- Loosing weight to get your BMI back in the normal, healthy range
- Increasing physical activity
- Dietary changes that focus on natural, whole foods
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Reducing sodium intake
- Cutting back on caffeine
- Taking measures to reduce stress
Hypertension is a serious disease that can have devastating consequences on your health if left untreated. There is no single best approach to treating hypertension and each case should be evaluated. If you have hypertension, or suspect that you do, make an appointment to speak with your doctor today.