Last week, we talked about heart disease. You may remember that high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, but there is plenty we can do to combat high blood pressure. Poor diets and lack of exercise increase the heart’s workload, causing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and the heart to thicken and become stiffer.
The long-term health risks for hypertensive people who are middle-aged or older can be problematic, but for hypertensive children and adolescents, they can really be substantial. It is important that clinical measures be taken in everyone who is hypertensive — regardless of age — to reduce risks and optimize healthy outcomes.
Hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are the first and third leading causes of death among Americans. Other conditions, such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease and blindness, are complications of high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries in the body and is recorded as two numbers: the systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). The measurement is written one above or before the other, with the systolic number on top and the diastolic number on the bottom. For example, a blood pressure measurement of 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is expressed verbally as "120 over 80."
Approximately two-thirds of people over age 65 have high blood pressure, which means the blood pressure level is 140/90 mmHg or higher. Blood pressures between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg are considered pre-hypertension. This means that you don’t have high blood pressure now but are likely to develop it in the future.
Many Americans tend to develop high blood pressure as they get older, but hypertension is not a part of healthy aging. Approximately one in every three adults (65 million Americans) have high blood pressure and the condition is more common among African-Americans who often get it earlier in life and more often than whites. Middle-aged Americans face a 90 percent chance of developing high blood pressure during their lives. Others at risk for developing high blood pressure are:
• overweight people
• people with a family history of high blood pressure, and
• people with pre-hypertension (120–139/80–89 mmHg).
Most of the time, the cause of high blood pressure is unknown. Causes, however, may include another medical condition, narrowing of the arteries, a greater than normal volume of blood or the heart beating faster or more forcefully than it should. Even though high blood pressure cannot usually be cured, in most cases it can be prevented and controlled.
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is an effective first step in both preventing and controlling high blood pressure, but if lifestyle changes are not effective, medication is an option. Patients should take blood pressure medications exactly as prescribed by a physician and schedule routine visits to monitor blood pressure.
Healthy lifestyle changes include:
• losing weight if overweight
• increasing physical activity (walking 30 minutes per day can help)
• following a healthy eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods
• drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation
• stopping smoking
• seeking stress relievers. Stress has been know to cause elevations in the blood pressure
• limiting beverages with caffeine. While they don’t cause permanent elevations in blood pressure, they will cause temporary elevations.
The effects of hypertension include:
• As we get older, arteries throughout the body harden, especially those in the heart, brain, and kidneys. High blood pressure can speed this process up, making stiffer arteries and causing the heart and kidneys to work harder.
• High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack. The arteries bring oxygen-carrying blood to the heart muscle, but if the heart cannot get enough oxygen, chest pain, or angina, can occur. A heart attack results if the flow of blood is blocked.
•High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for congestive heart failure. CHF is a serious condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs.
• Over time, high blood pressure can narrow and thicken the blood vessels of the kidneys. The kidneys normally act as filters to rid the body of wastes, but hypertension causes them to filter less fluid and waste builds up in the blood. Medical treatment (dialysis) or a kidney transplant may be needed when the kidneys fail completely
• High blood pressure can eventually cause blood vessels in the eye to burst or bleed, causing blurred or impaired vision or blindness.
• High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. Very high blood pressure can cause a break in a weakened blood vessel, which then bleeds in the brain or causes a stroke. A stroke can also be caused if a blood clot blocks one of the narrowed arteries.
Make your health a priority. Take care of yourself because if you don’t, the odds are not in your favor.
February is American Heart Month and a good time to take stock of your habits. Start a campaign to get in better health and enjoy your life.
Ratcliffe is the public information officer for the Liberty County Health Department.