High blood pressure has been a topic among doctors for years. But only a small percentage of us really know we have it. Today 1/3 people in the United States have high blood pressure. This is a frightening thing is it can not only affect adults, but kids as well. With the rise in obesity, stress, drug/alcohol intake and sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure is deep within our society and many of us don't know we have it. The truth is, high blood pressure is not addressed until we go into the doctors office for a regular physical and only then do people get diagnosed. But what if you've had high blood pressure for years and don't know it? What kind of damage is this doing to your body and what can you do today to reduce your chances of having high blood pressure?
High blood pressure or hypertension in medical lingo is a blood pressure above ideal caliber. When we talk blood pressure, we always hear "120/80." But what does that even mean? Lets break down this number first.
The 120 is your systolic pressure. This number is the pressure in which your heart pumps blood out of the lower chambers of your heart known as the ventricles. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure within your ventricles when the heart is relaxing in between beats.
When we exercise, exert ourselves or are in a stressful situation our blood pressure goes up. Why? Because our arteries which carry blood pumped by the heart to different parts of the body vasoconstrict or become more narrow. This allows blood to be more efficiently pumped to the specific tissues where it is needed For example if you were running, you would want blood pumped to the muscles in your legs to sustain exercise. When your arteries vasoconstrict however, its a narrower space for your heart to pump blood through. This causes your heart to work harder and puts more pressure on the ventricles to pump blood through your body. This causes pressure to go up. But once your finish exercise, your arteries vasodilate or widen allowing a decrease in blood flow to the area that was needing it which means the heart can pump against less pressure allowing your blood pressure to decrease.
Certain factors contribute to increased blood pressure. A big component of this is stress. If you are constantly under stress, your body releases inflammatory hormones known as cytokines. These damage the inner linings of your arteries. When blood pumps through your arteries, they are like a hose. They contract and relax with each beat allowing for blood flow to move through the arteries. If they didn't do this and were rigid, it would be much more difficult to move blood in the arteries causing the heart to pump harder and increasing blood pressure. This is exactly what stress can do over time. The artery lining gets damaged which can lead to small tears. When the tears heal, the arteries become more rigid and less elastic. This leads to blood pressure increases.
Another mechanism for healing tears in arteries is plaque formation. This is a complex process, but simply speaking fat deposits or LDL infuse into the tear and a process occurs to heal the area. However once the are heals, the artery itself becomes more narrow. The narrow artery makes it harder for blood to pump through the arteries increasing blood pressure.
High sodium diets are a part of the Western culture. But what does this actually do? Sodium causes fluid retention in the body. More fluid means great volumes of blood being pushed through your arteries. This increase in fluid means your heart has to work harder to pump this extra volume through your arteries putting more strain on it.
So what can you do to decrease your chances of hypertension?
Stress management like deep breathing can relax the tension in your body and reduce inflammation. Not only are practices like mediation, YOGA and mindfulness great, they help control stress and anxiety in many situations. Stress is a topic on its own but its affects more and more people each day. It is a huge risk factor for heart disease that many people brush under the rug. It may not do any damage short term, but can start taking effect on the body in the long term in a negative way. So if stress is holding you don in your life, consider trying these techniques or speak with a trained social worker, psychiatrist or psychologist
Regular exercise can allow the heart to pump more efficiently reducing it's likelihood of pumping with too much pressure. Weight loss contributes to a 7-10mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure by losing just 10lbs. Exercise improves HDL production in the body which helps reduce your chances of plaque formation in your arteries. It also decreases the release of inflammatory hormones and increases the release of hormones such as HGH, testosterone and insulin which all help in muscle repair including that or damaged arterial lining. It also helps build up the heart muscle allowing it to become stronger and pump more efficiently.
Diet is also huge when it comes to blood pressure control. Reducing sodium intake reduces blood volume and can decrease systolic blood pressure anywhere from 5-7mmHg. Reducing saturated fats in your diet substantially reduced your risk of plaque formation in your arteries. Eating more fruits and vegetables help regulate vitamins and minerals to help combat against inflammation. Soluble fibers can help slightly increase your HDL cholesterol which again reduced the LDL cholesterol in your body reducing plaque formation in your arteries.
You also should not get fixated in your blood pressure results. Blood pressure does vary through the day depending on time of day, meals consumed, your mental state, activities your doing etc. To truly be certain of your blood pressure a 24 hr blood pressure monitor can be ordered by your physician which your wear for a full day and it pumps up every 30min. This gives your physician a large set of data to get an average of blood pressure both during the day and when you sleep. Blood pressure during the night time is generally much lower as your body is relaxed.
If you were to measure blood pressure yourself, does so 3 separate times in a day. Take a reading in the morning, afternoon and evening. For each reading do it 3 times, with a 2 min break in between then average the blood pressure of the readings. After accumulating all 3 readings throughout the day you should have a good idea of where your blood pressure stands.
At the end of the day high blood pressure is a factor all of us can control. Medication is also an option but most use this as a last resort. Yes in many cases whether it be genetics, after a significant heart surgery or all other options to lower blood pressure have been exhausted, blood pressure medication will be necessary. But if we can control it with one of the methods mentioned above, is it not worth a try?