Lowering high blood pressure should be a priority for everyone who has it because left untreated it can lead to very serious medical conditions and premature death. Specifically, high blood pressure can cause coronary heart disease, kidney damage, harm vision, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Unfortunately, many people who have high blood pressure don’t know it because there are usually no symptoms. There are a number of controllable lifestyle factors that contribute to this dangerous condition; controlling these can help in lowering high blood pressure of those who have it and help those who don’t to prevent it.
Facts About Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is a function of the amount of blood that a heart pumps and the resistance to blood flow from arteries — which varies with the size and condition of the arteries. When arteries lose their elasticity and become narrow, high blood pressure results, find out more.
Blood pressure is measured in terms of millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) when your heart beats (systolic pressure) and is at rest between beats (diastolic pressure) and is categorized as follows:
- Normal BP – under 120/80 mm Hg
- Prehypertension — either a systolic pressure from 120-139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure of 80-89 mm Hg
- Stage 1 Hypertension – systolic 140-159 mm Hg or diastolic 90-99 mm Hg
- Stage 2 Hypertension – systolic pressure greater than 160 mm Hg or a diastolic reading of 100 mm Hg or higher
More than 90% of high blood pressure conditions in adults have no identifiable cause and develop gradually over a number of years (primary or essential hypertension). Five to ten percent of high blood pressure cases result from another underlying condition and can arise suddenly (secondary hypertension). Causes of secondary hypertension include certain medications, some illegal drugs, some congenital heart defects, adrenal gland tumors, and kidney conditions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of complications that can result from uncontrolled high blood pressure, including:
- Damage to the arteries resulting in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
- Aneurism or a weakening and bulging of blood vessels. Aneurisms can rupture and lead to death.
- Heart failure resulting from the thickening of the heart muscle trying to pump blood against the high pressure in the blood vessels.
- A blocked or ruptured blood vessel in the brain leading to a stroke.
- Weakened or narrowed blood vessels in the kidneys, preventing them from functioning properly.
- Damage to blood vessels in the eyes which could lead to the loss of vision.
- Trouble with memory or understanding. The abilities to think, remember and learn can affected by high blood pressure.
Knowledge of these serious potential complications should motivate people to reduce high blood pressure if they have it and to prevent getting it if their blood pressure is acceptable now.
Factors Contributing to High Blood Pressure
Age, race and family history are risk factors for high blood pressure that people can’t control. The incidence of high blood pressure increases with age and is higher among black people and those with a family history of it.
However, there are many risk factors for high blood pressure that people can control by changing their behavior. These include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Being physically inactive
- Too much salt or sodium in the diet
- Not enough vitamin D in the diet
- Not enough potassium in the diet
- Consuming too much alcohol
- High levels of stress
Strategies to Lower High Blood Pressure
One should always comply with the advice received from a physician and take any blood-pressure-lowering medications prescribed. In addition to listening to one’s doctor, lifestyle changes can help in lowering high blood pressure. The following are some of the recommendations of the Mayo Clinic:
- Eat healthier foods. Adopt the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet which focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and low levels of saturated and total fat.
- Decrease sodium intake. Limiting sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day will help lower high blood pressure.
- Lose weight if overweight or obese.
- Engage in regular physical activity – at least 30 minutes per day.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Consume no more than one drink a day if a woman and no more than two drinks a day if you’re a man (one drink daily if a man over 65).
- Don’t smoke or stop if you do. Tobacco use accelerates the process of hardening of the arteries. Get whatever help you need to quit.
- Reduce stress. Get sufficient sleep and practice relaxation and deep breathing techniques.
Reducing High Blood Pressure Saves Lives
Lowering high blood pressure can help a person avoid the serious possible complications it can cause, including premature death. There are numerous lifestyle behaviors that can help manage hypertension and even affect the risk of getting high blood pressure in the first place. Adopting a healthy diet, decreasing sodium intake, increasing physical activity, achieving a healthy weight, managing stress effectively, and not abusing tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs are life-saving strategies if they become firm habits.