High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition where the blood in an individual’s body puts too much pressure on that person’s arterial walls, veins, and capillaries. High blood pressure is serious, as it can cause heart attack, heart failure, stroke, damage to blood vessels, aneurysm, kidney failure, brain damage, and loss of vision.
The heart pumps around 2,000 gallons of blood each day through a person’s veins, arteries, and capillaries, and variations in pressure are natural. Blood pressure is higher during activities such as exercising, and lowers when the body is not as active. While high blood pressure during bodily activities is not dangerous, high blood pressure over extended periods of time can cause much bodily harm.
Causes of Hypertension
Some high blood pressure may be caused by genetics. Other lifestyle factors may contribute to high blood pressure, including obesity, living a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, a high-salt diet, heavy drinking, leading a stressful life, having anxiety or depression, and even the weather. Spouses of people with high blood pressure are more likely to have hypertension as well, though this is likely due to living a similar lifestyle and eating a similar diet.
High blood pressure can also be caused by kidney disease or damage. The kidneys, which regulate the removal of water and salt from the body, also play a role in controlling and individual’s blood pressure. A number of other diagnosable things can cause high blood pressure, including hormonal disorders like Cushing’s or hyperthyroidism, birth control pills, appetite suppressants, and arteriosclerosis (when stiff arteries are unable to dilate, this raises blood pressure).
Types of Hypertension
The two types of high blood pressure, essential (or primary) and secondary, are distinguished by the fact that persons with essential high blood pressure have a cause for the condition that cannot be identified. Essential high blood pressure is also the more common of the two types. Secondary high blood pressure has a specific cause that can be identified. Usually, secondary high blood pressure is due to kidney disease or damage.
Prevention of Hypertension
High blood pressure is most easily prevented through changes in a person’s lifestyle. Often, losing weight is one of the most effective treatments for high blood pressure (obese persons are twice as likely as the non-obese to have high blood pressure), and even a ten pound reduction helps the cause. Other ways to prevent high blood pressure include regular exercise, staying hydrated, consuming less than 2,000 mg of sodium per day, only drinking two or less alcoholic drinks per day, quitting smoking, eating a healthier diet which includes fruit, vegetables, and fiber, and having only four or fewer cups of coffee per day.
Symptoms of Hypertension
While persons suffering from high blood pressure do not usually exhibit outward symptoms, the most common risk factors for high blood pressure include the following: family history of high blood pressure, advanced age, high-sodium diet, smoking, kidney disorders, hormonal disorders, taking birth-control pills, taking appetite suppressants, obesity, alcohol abuse, and diabetes.
How Hypertension is Diagnosed
Blood pressure is easily measured and diagnosed using a sphygmomanometer, which inflates around the arm and has a meter to provide the output. When testing, the arm of the individual being tested should be relaxed and held at heart level. Persons wishing to do so may monitor their own blood pressure by purchasing a home testing kit. When constant monitoring of blood pressure is desired, a battery operated blood pressure monitor may be used.
Even though a routine blood pressure check is usually all that is needed to diagnose high blood pressure, it often goes unnoticed, partially due to the fact that few outward signs are exhibited. Because of this, high blood pressure is often referred to as “the silent killer.” Despite no outward signs, high blood pressure may damage the heart, kidneys, brain, vision, and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
A reading on the sphygmomanometer of 140 systolic or higher or 90 diastolic or higher is considered to be high blood pressure. A systolic reading between 130 and 139 or a reading between 80 and 89 diastolic is considered to be pre-hypertension, and precautionary measures should be taken, including lifestyle changes. To avoid mistakes, any reading should be repeated several times by the doctor or individual. The systolic reading measures the force that a person’s blood exerts on the artery walls when the heart is pumping. The diastolic reading measures the force that remains when the heart is between beats.
After taking a concerning blood pressure reading, additional tests will be performed if the doctor believes the individual suffers from secondary high blood pressure and a cause for the high blood pressure may be found. These tests include blood work, urinalysis, kidney X-rays, electrocardiogram (ECG), or echocardiogram. Finally, doctors may check for any damage caused by high blood pressure using an opthalmoscope to check the blood vessels in the retina of the patient.
Hypertension Possible Treatments
Individuals suffering from hypertension may use traditional medicine, taking what are called anti-hypertensives to lower their blood pressure. However, these medications can cause undesirable side effects such as impotence, headaches, fatigue, and asthma.
Generally, the best treatment for high blood pressure is a change toward a healthier lifestyle. Because of the nature of high blood pressure, this course of treatment usually will last for the patient’s whole life. A healthier lifestyle begins with eating healthy foods. Eating celery is often recommended for lowering blood pressure, and was a staple of traditional Chinese medicine. Garlic, even as little as half an ounce per week, has also been shown to lower blood pressure. Other foods that have been shown to help treat hypertension include: Hawthorn extract, Kudzu root, onion oils, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, saffron, purslane, and spices such as oregano and black pepper.
Another option for individuals suffering from hypertension is eating more fish or taking fish oil supplements. The omega-3 fatty acids within these may lower blood pressure, but they also carry an increased risk of bleeding. If eating fish, the individual will need to eat mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, or salmon at least twice per week.
Yoga may help persons suffering from high blood pressure, though these individuals need to avoid inverted positions such as head stands and shoulder stands. Acupuncture may also help.
A study by the American Journal of Hypertension published in 2005 found that Transcendental Meditation lowered blood pressure at twice the rate of progressive muscle relaxation. The study, which used 200 African-American men and women, found that systolic pressure went down by an average of 10.7 points and diastolic pressure by 6.4 points in those who practiced Transcendental Meditation.
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