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High Blood Pressure

If the pipes in your house were rusty and ready to burst, or the water pressure was too high, you’d want to know so you could fix the issue before it caused a major problem. The same goes for high blood pressure.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is directly connected to a greater risk of heart disease, the No.1 killer of men in the U.S. Since there aren’t typically obvious warning signs for most people with high blood pressure, it could go unnoticed for years.

But it’s also important to know that high blood pressure can be prevented and improved. That’s why checking your blood pressure every year is so important.

What is High Blood Pressure and What Can Happen?

Blood pressure refers to the force of your blood pushing against your artery walls. You don’t want it too high or too low, but high blood pressure is especially dangerous if untreated for too long.

Complications of high blood pressure include:

  • An enlarged and weakened heart that doesn’t pump well
  • Aneurysms, or bulges in blood vessels
  • Damage to blood vessels in the kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure
  • Vision problems, since tiny blood vessels in the eyes are especially vulnerable
  • Arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation that cause the heart to beat irregularly

About one in three adult Americans has high blood pressure, and that number goes up with age. For most men, the risk of hypertension can increase by as early as age 30. By age 60, over half of Americans have it. The lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure is 90%.

Signs of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure has been called “the silent killer” for a reason — there are often no big red flags early on. Nearly one-third of people with hypertension don’t even know they have it. But really high blood pressure can be dangerous acutely and may cause the following symptoms:

  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Pounding in your chest, neck or ears
  • Vision problems
  • Blood in your urine

If you have any of these symptoms that don’t improve with rest or worsen over a few hours, you should talk to your doctor right away.

Read why "Why Symptom-Free Doesn’t Always Mean Problem-Free"

How High Blood Pressure is Diagnosed

Blood pressure is quick and easy to check. When that cuff gets wrapped around your upper arm and inflated, your doctor is measuring two numbers:

Systolic pressure — The “top” number is the pressure when the heart is beating

Diastolic pressure — The “bottom” number is the pressure between heart beats

So what is a normal blood pressure? It turns out that, like cholesterol, the number can vary on age and if other health problems are present:

  • Stage 1 hypertension >130/80 (to be seen by your doctor at least once a year)
  • Stage 2 hypertension >140/90 (to be seen by your doctor every few weeks or months)
  • Hypertension crisis >180/120 (to be seen by your doctor that day)

High Blood Pressure Causes and Risk Factors

Are certain people more likely to have high blood pressure? The answer is yes, but many factors could be involved. One factor is simply being a man — high blood pressure affects men more than women. While all the causes of high blood pressure are not completely known, simply having high blood pressure for too long is definitely not a good thing. The following are well-known contributors to high blood pressure:

  • Smoking
  • A diet high in salty, fatty and processed foods
  • Obesity
  • Too much alcohol (more than one or two drinks daily)
  • Aging
  • Lack of physical activity
  • A family history of high blood pressure
  • Race (African-Americans are twice as likely to have high blood pressure as Caucasians)
  • Stress
  • Sleep apnea
  • Chronic kidney disease (for example diabetes over time can cause injury to the kidneys)
  • Adrenal, thyroid, and other disorders

In some cases, high blood pressure may be related to taking certain medications or having other health issues. This is called secondary hypertension.

Of course, you can’t control things like your gender, genetics, race or your age. But you’ll notice that most of the contributing factors are diet and lifestyle related that are within your control, which is great news for your health.

How to Lower High Blood Pressure and Prevent It

Whether your blood pressure test shows normal or high readings, it’s good to take steps to rein it in for the long-haul. Forming healthy habits now can make all the difference for a long and happy life.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest that you take a medicine for your high blood pressure. There are many options — such as water pills (diuretics), beta-blocker, calcium-channel blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors etc (there are many choices!). That being said, lifestyle changes are still important too, as you may find you can lower your dose or steer clear of medication completely.

Blood pressure management is much more than just medications. Here are some proven lifestyle changes that can help:

  • Cut back on salt: The daily recommendation is 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of salt. However, the average man consumes more than 4,200 milligrams of salt per day. When it comes to first steps in managing high blood pressure, reducing salt intake is the best first step.
  • Do the DASH diet: DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This doesn’t mean you have to dash away from every food you love, but to focus more on “real” food such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables and less dairy. DASH is very effective in lowering blood pressure, often within two weeks!
  • Other natural ways to lower blood pressure: Nutrients such as potassium, calcium and magnesium may help lower blood pressure. You can probably get the levels you need from your diet, so don’t take dietary or herbal supplements without talking to your doctor first. Potassium is in most fruit, vegetables and fish. Good sources of magnesium include whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans. After age 60, a good source of calcium is low fat dairy, but a 500 mg supplement (in any form) can help as well.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise addresses two of the biggest risk factors — being overweight and toning up the cardiovascular system. Physically active people have more than a 50% lower risk of high blood pressure than those who are not active. It can be as simple as walking 30 minutes a day, but the most important thing is to find something you like to do, can do, and will do consistently life-long!
  • Reduce stress and alcohol: Sometimes these can go hand in hand, and neither one is good for your blood pressure. When we’re stressed, we tend to overeat, eat too many of the wrong foods high in sugar and salt, and smoke or drink too much alcohol to cope. Limit your alcohol to no more than two drinks per day (with rare exceptions), and try to seek better ways to manage stress, anger, depression and anxiety. It helps to stay connected with loved ones, get outdoors, take a much-needed vacation, and take time each day to relax or meditate.

How Sauk Prairie Healthcare Can Help

Getting your blood pressure checked is just the starting point. You can manage your blood pressure and health with the help of our healthcare team at Sauk Prairie Healthcare. It’s far less stressful on you and your heart to just come on in, get your blood pressure checked, and talk with us about what your numbers mean. Whether it’s continuing routine checks every year, making lifestyle changes or starting a medication, you’ll have a plan of action that’s right for you.

Call your primary care doctor to schedule a physical exam today.