“The Silent Killer”
You are all familiar with the drill. You are in your doctor’s office and one of the first things that happens is someone checks your blood pressure. While you may be familiar with this simple check, you may not understand why your blood pressure is so important.
Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels. High blood pressure (HBP) – also known as Hypertension is when your blood pressure is consistently too high. Hypertension makes the heart work harder than normal, causes it to grow abnormally large, and puts both the heart and arteries under great strain. When the pressure is too high, arteries can become clogged and burst. High blood pressure often has no signs or symptoms. Many people don’t know they have high blood pressure until something bad happens, hence the reason it is often called the “silent killer.” HBP develops slowly over time and cannot be cured. However, it can be managed very effectively through lifestyle changes and, when needed, medication. The best ways to protect yourself are being aware of the risks and making changes that matter.
Know Your Numbers!
Knowing your blood pressure is a critical part of managing your health. If it is high and you don’t know it, or if it goes uncontrolled (left untreated), you may be at greater risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, or other serious conditions.
Blood pressure is written as two numbers, such as 112/78 mm Hg; the first (top) number, systolic, is the pressure while your heart beats or contracts and pumps blood out. The second (bottom) number, diastolic, is the pressure of the arteries while your heart rests between and refills with blood. Typically, more attention is given to systolic blood pressure (the top number) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque. Only your doctor can tell if you have high blood pressure. Most doctors will check your blood pressure several times on different days before deciding that you have high blood pressure. A diagnosis of high blood pressure is given if repeated readings are 140/90 or higher or 130/80 or higher if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
Strategies to Reduce Blood Pressure
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
- Reduce salt intake
- Eat a heart-healthy diet – high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low in saturated and trans fats and low-fat dairy products.
- Eat foods rich in potassium or supplement your diet with potassium
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Be physically active For at least 30 minutes a day.
- If needed, take medication as prescribed by your doctor.
- Know what your blood pressure should be and work to keep it at that level.
- Home monitoring (self-measured blood pressure) to help your doctor determine whether treatments are working. Home monitoring is not a substitute for regular visits to your doctor.
- If you have been prescribed medication to lower your blood pressure, don’t stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor, even if your blood pressure readings are in the normal range during home monitoring.
How HBP can Harm your Health
High blood pressure puts your health and quality of life in danger. Left uncontrolled or undetected, high blood pressure can lead to:
- Heart attack— High blood pressure damages arteries that can become blocked and prevent blood from flowing to tissues in the heart muscle.
- Stroke — High blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst or clog more easily.
- Heart failure — The increased workload from high blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge and fail to supply blood to the body.
- Kidney disease or failure— High blood pressure can damage the arteries around the kidneys and interfere with their ability to effectively filter blood.
- Vision loss— High blood pressure can strain or damage blood vessels in the eyes.
- Sexual dysfunction— This can be erectile dysfunction in men or lower libido in women.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD) — Atherosclerosis (a condition where the arteries become narrowed and hardened due to a buildup of plaque around the artery wall) caused by high blood pressure can cause a narrowing of arteries in the legs, arms, stomach and head, causing pain or fatigue.
Points to ponder!
Until next time……………be kind to your heart!
Dr. Ramat Lawal-Unuigbe