While stress itself may or may not affect blood pressure, how you cope with stress does. For instance, overeating, smoking and drinking alcohol in response to stressful situations are direct causes of sustained high blood pressure. On the flip side, healthier coping mechanisms like exercising, practicing yoga and meditating can all help lower blood pressure.
We tend not to think about our blood pressure — it’s a normal function of our heart working regularly. However, when blood pressure stays high over an extended period it means the heart is working harder than it should. Since hypertension usually doesn’t have symptoms, we don’t know what is happening unless we measure it. Accurately measuring blood pressure provides a glimpse into what’s happening inside our bodies without needing expensive diagnostic tests.
Effective lifestyle modification may lower blood pressure as much as an individual antihypertensive medication. Combinations of two or more lifestyle modifications can achieve even better results. There is considerable evidence that reducing dietary salt intake lowers blood pressure, but whether this translates into a reduction in mortality and cardiovascular disease remains uncertain. Estimated sodium intake ≥6g/day and <3g/day are both associated with high risk of death or major cardiovascular disease, but the association between high sodium intake and adverse outcomes is only observed in people with hypertension. Consequently, in the absence of results from randomized controlled trials, the wisdom of reducing levels of dietary salt intake below 3g/day has been questioned.
First, we collect and analyze statewide data using telephone surveys, hospital information, and death certificates, so we are able to know which groups of people are experiencing hypertension and the impacts of uncontrolled high blood pressure. This includes looking at geography, age, racial/ethnic status, education levels, and other demographic information. When the data is compiled, we make it available on the DOH web site. We estimate that in 2015, nearly 14,000 deaths and 71,000 hospitalizations were due to heart disease and stroke.
Eat potassium- and magnesium-rich foods. Potassium can help regulate your heart rate and can reduce the effect that sodium has on your blood pressure. Foods like bananas, melons, oranges, apricots, avocados, dairy, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tuna, salmon, beans, nuts, and seeds have lots of potassium. Magnesium is thought to help blood vessels relax, making it easier for blood to pass through. Foods rich in magnesium include vegetables, dairy, chicken, legumes, and whole grains. It’s better to get vitamins and minerals from food, and a heart-healthy diet like the one we described above is a good way to ensure you get plenty of nutrients. However, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether taking certain supplements might help your blood pressure.
There are many popular medical myths about high blood pressure. For example, many physicians believe that high blood pressure is an “inevitable consequence of aging;” that the “only viable treatment option for high blood pressure patients is medication”; that high blood pressure patients must take their medications “for the rest of their lives”; and, worst of all, that high blood pressure medications are “safe and effective.”
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.