Understanding High Blood Pressure

The movies would have us think that being startled or a little angry might make our blood pressure rise to deadly levels. Which is obviously pretty false, or at least overblown, but if that's the case, where does high blood pressure actually come from?

We may have temporary blood pressure changes at intervals throughout our lives, such as higher blood pressure when we are frightened or stressed. But consistently high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, may be seriously harmful to our health in a number of ways so it's important to understand the causes as well as the treatments.

Understanding Blood Pressure

When we measure blood pressure, we obtain two values, with one number over the other, such as 130/90 mm Hg. The top number, known as systolic blood pressure, shows the blood vessels’ pressure when our heart muscle squeezes. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, reveals the blood vessels’ pressure when our heart muscle relaxes.

The unit “mm Hg” is the abbreviation for millimeters of mercury and is the measure of pressure used to show how much pressure is being exerted inside our veins. The American Heart Association (AHA) defines normal blood pressure as less than 120/80 mm Hg. So anything over this is serious.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, may have no symptoms and is often referred to as the “silent killer.” That’s because consistently high blood pressure may increase our risk of several dangerous conditions. Hypertension may add to our risk for heart attack, stroke, loss of vision, dementia, circulation problems, and, in men, erectile dysfunction.

Those newly diagnosed with high blood pressure will need to make a plan with their physician to tackle the problem. In some cases, they may receive a prescription for a medication designed to help lower blood pressure and others may receive advice for lifestyle changes. It just depends on the physician and the severity of the problem.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure that is higher than normal may have one or more contributing causes. Possible hypertension causes may include lifestyle choices that we can control, such as eating too much salty food, and factors we cannot change outright or that we may face serious challenges in altering, such as family history or sleep apnea.

Lifestyle choices that may cause hypertension include:

  • Insufficient exercise
  • Too much salt
  • Smoking
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Excess alcohol (defined as more than 1 to 2 drinks per day)
  • Stress
  • Diet lacking certain minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium

Factors that may contribute to hypertension that we cannot control or may face challenges in changing include:

  • Aging
  • Family history
  • Sleep apnea
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Adrenal disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy

To tackle hypertension, it's important to get controllable factors under control. Losing weight, eating less salt, and choosing exercise over more sedentary activities is a good start. Many do not experience symptoms from high blood pressure, making it very difficult to catch before serious symptoms set in. So it's important to have blood pressure checked regularly as we age and to take immediate steps to adjust course at the first sign. Please, visit a doctor right away if you suspect you have high blood pressure.

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7/21/2020 7:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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