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.
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There was a time when the high blood pressure medication list was very short indeed. In the 1950s, reserpine was one of the few products on the market to treat hypertension. It is rarely used due to its numerous side effects and drug interactions. The peripheral adrenergic inhibitors work in the brain to block signals that tell blood vessels to constrict. They are mostly used when other high blood pressure medications fail to solve the problem. Guanadrel (Hylorel), guanethidine monosulfate (Ismelin), and reserpine (Serpasil) are peripheral adrenergic inhibitors.
Many kids and teens with high blood pressure have an unhealthy lifestyle — a bad diet, excess weight, stress, and too little physical activity. So the health care provider might recommend weight loss, exercise, reduced screen time (time spent watching TV, or using a computer or mobile devices), dietary changes, and even relaxation techniques. Teens with hypertension should not smoke because it can make the long-term associated heart problems worse.
As you age, prevention becomes even more important. Systolic pressure tends to creep up once you’re older than 50, and it’s far more important in predicting the risk of coronary heart disease and other conditions. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease, may also play a role. Talk to your doctor about how you can manage your overall health to help prevent the onset of hypertension.
Medications used to lower blood pressure include diuretics (e.g., hydrochlorothiazide*), beta-blockers (e.g., atenolol, metoprolol), ACE inhibitors (e.g., ramipril, enalapril, lisinopril), calcium channel blockers (e.g., nifedipine, amlodipine), angiotensin II receptor blockers (e.g., losartan, valsartan), and direct renin inhibitors (e.g., aliskiren).
Your blood pressure is said to be “high” when either your systolic blood pressure is 140 or above, or your diastolic blood pressure is 90 or above, or both. So if your blood pressure is found to be 142/88 (systolic = 142, diastolic = 88), you are diagnosed as having high blood pressure, according to current definitions. The same would be true if your blood pressure was found to be 135/92, or 152/95. In each case, either the systolic is high, or the diastolic is high, or both. Any of these findings result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
One side effect of diuretics is a loss of potassium, which is carried out of the body in urine along with the sodium. Potassium is needed for proper muscular movement and a deficiency of this mineral can result in fatigue, weakness, leg cramps, and even problems with the heart. So often, patients on traditional diuretics will be advised to take their medication with a potassium-rich food, such as orange juice or a banana, or they'll be prescribed a potassium supplement.
The reasons for this astonishing success are not yet entirely understood. Certainly, two of the major causes of high blood pressure are being addressed: excessive dietary salt is completely eliminated, and it is likely that some patients experience some reversal of the atherosclerosis process. However, Dr. Campbell has suggested that additional mechanisms may be partly responsible for fasting’s remarkable effects, such as the rapid reduction of a phenomenon known as “insulin resistance.”
How low should you go? Aim to keep your sodium intake below 1,500 mg for healthy blood pressure, recommends the American Heart Association. That’s about half of what most Americans consume per day. Going easy on the saltshaker can help, but you’ll make a bigger impact by watching the sodium count in packaged or processed foods, Obarzanek says. (Pay extra attention to bread and rolls, pizza, soup, cold cuts, poultry, and sandwiches, which tend to pack the most salt.) Then try these other simple ways to slash your salt intake.
Headaches strike over 90% of adults each year. You may be able to wait out some and let them pass, but others may be a sign that your body is asking you to take action. There is a chance that your headache could be a symptom of high blood pressure. If there are no other causes of your headache, you should ask your healthcare provider about getting your blood pressure checked.