Doctors often refer to high blood pressure as being a silent killer, because for most of us there are few symptoms. It’s not until a routine doctor’s visit or a related illness occurs that many of us find out we have it.
Also called hypertension, high blood pressure occurs when the force of the blood going through your blood vessels is consistently too high. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes your heart work harder to pump blood through the body. That additional work also can damage the heart, arteries and ventricles, leading to additional health risks, including heart failure, chronic kidney disease, heart attack, stroke and vascular dementia.
What are the risk factors for high blood pressure?
A variety of conditions can contribute to high blood pressure, including:
• Age — The chance of developing high blood pressure increases with age.
• Race — High blood pressure is more common among African-American people.
• Family history — High blood pressure tends to run in families.
• Weight — Being overweight can increase the pressure on the artery walls.
• Inactivity — Inactive people may have higher heart rates, requiring the heart to work harder.
• Use of tobacco — The chemicals in tobacco act as a stimulant and increase blood pressure. Those chemicals also can damage the lining of the walls of the arteries.
• Salt — Too much sodium can make you retain fluid, increasing blood pressure.
What can be done to control blood pressure?
The first step is to know if you have high blood pressure. A high blood pressure test is usually a routine part of an annual exam. But if you have concerns, you can schedule an appointment to have it checked. Many pharmacies also have equipment that allows you to check your blood pressure. If you notice that it is high, you should confirm it with your doctor.
Fortunately, a number of steps can be taken to help normalize your blood pressure:
• Eat healthy. Low-fat diets that focus on vegetables, fruits, lean meats, nuts and beans are recommended for most people, but particularly for those who want to lower their blood pressure.
• Be active. Physical activity helps to lower blood pressure, reduce stress and promote weight loss.
• Maintain a healthy weight. Even the loss of 10 pounds can help lower high blood pressure.
• Stop smoking. Talk with your doctor about how to reduce your risk for heart disease and other illnesses by quitting smoking.
• Reduce alcohol. Heavy drinking is associated with high blood pressure.
• Minimize stress. Exercise, meditation and other relaxation techniques can help reduce the amount of stress you feel.
• Take your medications and see your doctor regularly. If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it’s important to take your medicines as directed.
High blood pressure may be “silent,” but by working closely with your doctor and managing your health, you can make sure the effects of this disease don’t sneak up on you.
Dr. Lanza is a cardiologist at Orlando Health Heart Institute.
To schedule an appointment at the Orlando Health Heart Institute click here.