In the previous two issues, we addressed smoking cessation and the importance of sugar control. In this edition, we will look at the role of hypertension in the prevention of vascular disease and how we can make lifestyle choices that can prevent or delay the onset of hypertension.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects 50 million Americans over 60 years of age every year. It is referred to as the “silent killer” as it does not have symptoms. Many people do not find out that they have high blood pressure until they have problems with their heart, kidney, or brain. Hypertension has been shown to increase the rates of kidney failure, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and strokes. One in three adults has high blood pressure. Approximately half of all these patients use medications to lower their blood pressure, but only half of these have their blood pressure under control.
What is high blood pressure and what is its relation to vascular disease?
High blood pressure is a persistent abnormal elevation in the pressure within the arteries, which are the blood vessels that deliver blood from the heart to the entire body. The heart’s rhythmic pumping action (contraction) creates the upper systolic pressure (normal is 120 mmHg) and the resting pressure between two consecutive heartbeats is the lower diastolic pressure (normal is 80mmHg or lower).
What is a hypertensive crisis?
This stage of high blood pressure requires urgent or emergent medical attention. If your blood pressure readings exceed 180 x 120 mmHg and is persistently elevated, seek medical attention immediately.
If this is accompanied by signs of possible end-organ damage, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness or weakness, change in vision, or difficulty speaking, it’s considered an emergency. Do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own; call 911 immediately
In 90-95% of cases, it’s not possible to figure out an exact cause of high blood pressure. There are, however, a number of factors that have been linked to high blood pressure, including:
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Age: Incidence increases in men after age 35 and females after age 45
- Gender: Men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women
- Smoking: Those who smoke are at increased risk of having hypertension
- Race: Approximately 33% of African-Americans have high blood pressure compared to 25% of Caucasians
Secondary hypertension has an identifiable cause. One of the most important and correctable causes is the narrowing of arteries to the kidney, called renal artery stenosis. There are other, less common, causes like a tumor in your adrenal glands.
Here are some actions you can take to prevent hypertension:
- Maintain a healthy weight (BMI less than 30)
- Reduce the quantity of salt and saturated fats in your diet and eat more whole grains, fruits and green vegetables
- Increase your physical activity (30 minutes of exercise daily)
- Eliminate tobacco use
- Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women
- Build relaxation into your workday