Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Be Aware of High Blood Pressure

by Anne Pagnoni

According to the CDC, almost 68 million people are living with high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension. High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, which are the first and third leading causes of death, respectively.

Blood pressure is the force of blood against your artery walls as the heart pumps your blood throughout your body. If your blood pressure rises and stays high for a long period of time, then it can damage the body in a variety of ways. Blood pressure is measured in two numbers. The systolic number, which is the "top" number, refers to blood pressure when the heart is beating. The diastolic number, which is the "bottom" number, refers to blood pressure when the heart is resting between beats. A normal blood pressure reading is any reading when the systolic number is less than 120 and the diastolic number is less than 80.

Blood pressure varies during the day. It tends to increase when you're excited, nervous, or active. It tends to decrease when you are sleeping. It's important to keep in mind that if your blood pressure stays above the normal reading for the majority of the time, then you are at risk for hypertension and other health problems.

In addition to sleep, excitement, and activity, there are many other factors that impact blood pressure. The amount of water and salt that you have in your body; the condition of your kidneys, nervous system, and blood vessels; health conditions including thyroid disease and sleep apnea; and the varying levels of hormones in your body impact blood pressure. Age impacts blood pressure as blood pressure tends to increase as we get older simply because our blood vessels become stiffer as we age.

Hypertension has been shown to cause the arteries throughout the body to narrow in some places. As a result, blood flow is limited to various body parts which can lead to heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. Aneurysms, which are abnormal bulges in artery walls, can form in blood vessels as a result of high blood pressure. Blood vessels in the eyes can burst or begin to bleed. This can lead to changes in vision or even blindness.

There are a variety of medications that can be used to treat hypertension. These vary from medications that help remove water and salt from the body to medications that slow down the heart or relax and widen blood vessels. Some individuals benefit from having two or more medications.

In addition to prescription medications, there are a variety of lifestyle changes that one can make to help decrease blood pressure. Eating a diet low in fat, cholesterol, and salt can help reduce blood pressure as well as limiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day while women should have no more than one alcoholic drink per day. Physical activity is another way to manage high blood pressure. It's important to speak with your physician prior to starting any physical exercise regiment in order to learn what is safe for you to do. Maintaining a healthy weight can do wonders in the fight against high blood pressure. If you are a smoker, then quit smoking. There are products that can help you quit. Talk to your doctor for more information about these. Learn how to manage stress and relax. Some people choose physical activity while others opt for meditation or listening to music. Find out what works for you.

While high blood pressure cannot be cured, it can be controlled. Make sure that you work closely with your doctor to make sure that your hypertension is being properly managed. Managing your high blood pressure will allow you to live a long life.

For more information, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

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