By BitMED Provider: Joseph Accursio, NP
High blood pressure (or Hypertension) is something that’s discussed often in the medical community. That’s because untreated high blood pressure can lead to life-changing health problems in the long run, and many blood pressure-related problems are permanent – once you have them, you’re stuck with them. On top of this, you may have high blood pressure and never have a single symptom or problem until it’s too late.
How does blood pressure work?
A simple and effective way to discuss hypertension is the analogy of a typical garden hose. If you attach a hose to the spigot outside and turn it on, water flows out the other end. This represents blood pressure under control. Now, if you place a spray device onto the end of the hose, you’ll notice that the tension on the hose becomes much greater. Finally, if you kink the hose off by bending it, the pressure inside of the hose becomes enormous, as the water seeks to find someplace to go. That’s essentially a simple explanation of your blood vessel (or vascular) system.
Why high blood pressure is problem
Now If you’ve ever had an old garden hose or broken spigot, then you know that it only takes a little back pressure to cause water leaks from several places. Those leaks are the problems with high blood pressure, and can occur anywhere in your body, most often inside small and fragile blood vessels that can’t take too much pressure – your eyes, kidneys, brain and heart. Over the years, this can lead a heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, or vision impairment.
How did this happen to me?
There are many reasons why people might have high blood pressure, and some of them can be quite complex. The ones you can’t directly control without help are age, ethnicity, family history, kidney or thyroid problems. Some people have high blood pressure without a known cause – this is called primary hypertension.
Thankfully, there are many causes for hypertension that can be controlled, such as body weight, tobacco and alcohol use, diet, medication use, stress and activity. As you can see, though these are simple ways to fight hypertension, they’re all about discipline and moderation.
If there was one starting place and take-away from blood pressure control, it would be staying at a healthy weight, or within your BMI (body mass index). Research shows that getting into a healthy weight range can lower blood pressure by as much as 20 points. Of course, staying at a healthy weight involves – you guessed it – your diet and activity levels!
Regarding eating habits, the most important thing to remember is that you can NEVER exercise off a bad diet, so healthy choices are pivotal to your success. Regarding exercise, start small – any activity is good activity to start. But keep in mind, the idea is to increase your level of activity over time. Talk to a trusted health care provider about permanent lifestyle changes that will lower your blood pressure and most importantly, help you do whatever you do better everyday.
An excellent and easy starting place for blood pressure management is to look up the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “Guide to lowering blood pressure.” This booklet discusses body weight, activity, eating right, alcohol intake and common blood pressure medications.
Monitoring your blood pressure
If you want to start watching your blood pressure, the best way is to develop a trend of measurements over time – one to two weeks should do.
Purchase a reliable arm or wrist cuff from the store. Take your BP once or twice daily, no more than that. Take it at breakfast and dinner…something easy to remember.
Before you take it, sit down and relax for 5-10 minutes. Then follow the instructions for your device.
Record this number. Do the exact same thing every day for the next 1-2 weeks. Then take this to a health care professional for discussion and next steps.