Half of American adults have this life-threatening condition, yet many are unaware or simply don’t take it seriously. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Hypertension is manageable and even preventable, but you have to know your risk factors and get your blood pressure checked (regularly!) to see if you’re at risk. Let’s take a closer look at what blood pressure actually is, how hypertension works, and how you can prevent the effects of high blood pressure to stave off heart disease.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition where the pressure of the blood flowing through the arteries is higher than normal. This elevated level of pressure can lead to many risks throughout the body and can lead to the disruption of many processes and can ultimately increase the risk of many conditions such as coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, vision loss and chronic kidney disease.
Unfortunately, this seems like a common scenario — medical guidelines recommend more aggressive medication use for minimal potential benefit despite potential harm. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggests the blood pressure guidelines go too far for low risk individuals, and the risk of harm outweighs the potential benefits.
In “guessing” on the best initial single drug to try, most experts now recommend beginning either with either a thiazide diuretic (usually chlorthalidone or hydrochlorothiazide), a long-acting calcium blocker, or an ACE inhibitor. ARBs are generally thought of as substitutes for ACE inhibitors, and generally, are used only when ACE inhibitors are poorly tolerated.
Making some stuffed peppers for dinner tonight could be the first step on a journey toward a healthier heart and lower blood pressure. Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, with more of the potent antioxidant than even citrus fruits, which has been shown to improve cardiac function and lower blood pressure. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that loading up on vitamin C reduced blood pressure by 5 millimeters of mercury in patients with hypertension, making these versatile veggies a smart addition to any meal plan.
A recent study compared diuretics with other types of blood pressure-lowering medications and found the diuretics were just as effective as the newer drugs in preventing heart attack or death due to heart disease. The new guidelines say these inexpensive drugs should be used as first-line treatment for most people who have high blood pressure without other risk factors such as heart failure, history of heart attack, diabetes, or kidney disease.
As mentioned earlier, blood pressure increases with age, beginning from infancy to older adulthood. Since most healthy babies and children are typically not at risk for blood pressure problems, most doctors do not check their blood pressure routinely. But, the normal BP range for all adults, regardless of their age, is considered to be lesser than 120/80.
Your total blood pressure reading is determined by measuring your systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Systolic blood pressure, the top number, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries each time it beats. Diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries in between beats.
“The heart works to pump oxygen in the blood to all your tissues and organs,” explains Lara Kovell, M.D., a cardiologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood pushing against the blood vessels, or arteries, of the body. If you were able to hold on to one of your arteries, the blood pressure is the force you would feel on your hand.”