The risks of high blood pressure

High blood pressure can cause high risk

From stroke, to ulcers, to blindness, the risks associated with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, need to be taken seriously. It is reported as many as 1 out of 3 adults in the US have high blood pressure, but over one third of them don’t know that they have this silent killer.

Having your blood pressure taken is easy. A health care professional will put a cuff around the artery in your arm and inflate the cuff until it is tight. Then he or she will listen for your heart beat. The pressure at which the first heart beat is heard is the systolic pressure, the pressure at which the heart beat is no longer heard is the diastolic pressure.

Let’s start by looking at what those blood pressure numbers mean.

Your blood pressure measures the pressure against the arteries when the heart beats (systolic) and the pressure in the arteries when your heart is at rest (diastolic).

The systolic number is the top number. It is the higher of the two numbers, because more pressure is exerted when the heart beats. Normal systolic blood pressure is less than 120. A number higher than 120 may indicate cardiovascular disease in people over the age of 50.

The diastolic pressure will be lower because it measures the pressure against the arteries between beats. This number should be less than 80.

If your systolic blood pressure is over 180 or your diastolic blood pressure is more than 110, wait a few minutes and retake the readings. If you get the same readings, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

If you think that you may have high blood pressure, see your health care provider and ask him or her what steps you can take to control it or if there are precautions that you should take until you get it under control.

The higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of heart disease. Also keep in mind that high blood pressure can damage more than your heart.

High blood pressure is also the leading risk factor for stroke. When a blood clot blocks a narrowed artery, blood flow can be cut off to the brain. Extremely high blood pressure can also break weakened blood vessels and cause bleeding in the brain.

If the heart cannot pump enough blood to the blood vessels feeding the kidneys, they will narrow. This slows the kidneys function, so that they don’t filter the blood, allowing toxins to build up in the blood stream. Left untreated, this can cause kidney failure.

High blood pressure can also cause convulsions, lack of coordination, impaired speech, blindness, gastrointestinal ulcers, brain death and can contribute to depression.

What are the causes of high blood pressure?

There are several identifiable risk factors associated with high blood pressure. The Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team recommends that you should have your blood pressure checked by a health care provider at least once every two years – more often if you have six of the risk factors listed below.

You are a man over the age of 55 or a woman over the age of 65.
You are African American.
You have a family member who has/had high blood pressure.
You are overweight or obese.
You drink large amounts of alcohol.
You smoke.
You have diabetes.
You have uncontrolled stress.
You take oral contraceptives.
You take corticosteroids.

Prevention and control are closely related

You can help yourself prevent high blood pressure by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, nuts and poultry. Your diet should also limit sugar, fats, red meat, and salt.

According to the National Institutes of Health, eating less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day provides the largest benefit in the avoidance or control of high blood pressure. Lower your daily sodium intake by reducing the amount of salt you use in cooking, taking the salt shaker off the table, and choosing prepared foods that are low in sodium.

There is no cure for high blood pressure, but diet, exercise and medication can be used to control it so that it does not cause other health complications. You increase your chances of control when you lose weight, exercise, quit smoking, reduce the amount of alcohol that you drink and learn positive ways to manage stress.

For more information about high blood pressure and heart health, contact the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team.

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