How To Manage High Blood Pressure
Perhaps you’ve had high blood pressure for a long time, or maybe you or a loved one was recently diagnosed with this condition. Either way, it’s important to understand what this means and how to manage high blood pressure so you aren’t putting your overall health at risk. Here’s a refresher course in what happens to your body when your blood pressure is elevated and how you can take action to lower your blood pressure today.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
A simple definition
Blood pressure is the force that is exerted on your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body to provide oxygen, a necessary component for life. Think of your arteries like a garden hose. When you turn up the nozzle, as with high blood pressure, the tightness of the hose increases.
There is a normal amount of pressure in your arteries necessary for them to function. However, when that pressure exceeds a certain threshold, we call that high blood pressure, or hypertension in medical terminology.
How we measure blood pressure
You’re probably familiar with how we measure blood pressure, having had it taken in the past. A cuff is applied to your upper left arm, and either an automatic device or a trained healthcare professional listening with a stethoscope records two numbers: the upper number, known as your systolic pressure, and the lower number, which is your diastolic pressure.
The systolic pressure is the force exerted on your arteries when your heartbeats, and the diastolic pressure is the arterial force measured when your heart is briefly at rest between beats. We measure blood pressure in mm Hg, or millimeters of mercury on a sphygmomanometer, which is the gauge on a blood pressure monitor.
For example, you might hear the doctor or nurse say your blood pressure is “140 over 90,” written as “140/90 mm Hg.” This means your systolic pressure is 140 and your diastolic pressure is 90.
The American Heart Association has divided blood pressure readings into categories by the numbers (in mm Hg):
- Normal: systolic pressure less than 120 AND diastolic pressure less than 80
- Elevated: systolic pressure 120-129 AND diastolic pressure less than 80
- High blood pressure stage 1: systolic pressure 130-139 OR diastolic pressure 80-89
- High blood pressure stage 2: systolic pressure 140 or higher OR diastolic pressure 90 or higher
- Hypertensive crisis: systolic pressure higher than 180 AND/OR diastolic pressure higher than 120
Two types of high blood pressure
There are actually two types of high blood pressure. Primary hypertension, also known as essential hypertension, is the most common type. It’s when there is no specific cause for your high blood pressure, although it’s usually a result of a combination of factors like your environment, lifestyle, and physical changes with aging.
Secondary hypertension occurs when a known cause results in high blood pressure. Common reasons for secondary hypertension include thyroid or adrenal gland conditions, kidney problems, sleep apnea, and certain medications.
Why Is High Blood Pressure So Dangerous?
High blood pressure has acquired the name “the silent killer” with good reason. Many people are not aware they even have high blood pressure, or they have been diagnosed with hypertension and don’t see it slowly damaging their blood vessels and leading to further dangerous health conditions.
High blood pressure rarely produces symptoms until it’s too late and it has reached a life-threatening stage. That’s why it’s so important to get regular blood pressure readings, especially if you have any of the risk factors listed below. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Decreased kidney function
- Vision loss from blood vessel damage in the eyes
- Metabolic syndrome (a cluster of disorders that can predispose you to heart disease and diabetes)
- Difficulty with cognition and memory
If you think about the meaning of high blood pressure, this makes sense. Your heart has to work too hard against the pressure in your arteries, like a pump on overdrive 24/7. And your blood vessels take a beating too from all that constant pressure, like a garden hose that’s been overused day in, day out.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
A long list of risk factors
There are numerous factors that can put anyone at risk for high blood pressure. Even children can have hypertension. The more risk factors you have here, the greater the likelihood you will be diagnosed with high blood pressure:
- Being overweight or obese: oxygen demand increases, while the stress on your heart and blood vessels increases
- Lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle: contributes to obesity and reduces heart health
- Smoking and chewing tobacco: narrows arteries and contributes long-term damage to arterial walls
- High salt diet: causes fluid retention that increases blood pressure
- Potassium deficiency: can cause an excess of sodium in your blood, the equivalent of consuming too much salt
- Excessive alcohol consumption: damages the heart over time
- Age: arterial elasticity and heart strength can diminish
- Stress: produces chemicals in the body that temporarily increase blood pressure
- Family history: genetic predisposition to high blood pressure or health conditions that lead to high blood pressure
- Race: people of African heritage are more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes
- Chronic medical conditions: diabetes, kidney disease, and sleep apnea can all precipitate high blood pressure
- Pregnancy: in some cases, pregnancy can cause temporary high blood pressure that can lead to other complications
What Can You Do to Manage High Blood Pressure?
Combine tactics for the best results
The good news is high blood pressure can be reversed with lifestyle changes. Sometimes your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to help lower blood pressure too. However, you will find the greatest success when you combine all of the tactics below; it’s not enough to simply take a pill. And these are not short-term fixes. Managing high blood pressure requires a lifetime commitment, but the good health that results is well worth it.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions
If your healthcare provider has given you directions for how to manage your blood pressure, you need to follow them — not just some of the time when it’s convenient, but all the time. This will likely be a holistic plan that includes many of the items listed below. Ask for clarification if anything isn’t clear. Write everything down in a notebook or ask for a printed copy of any instructions.
Take your prescribed medications
Medications for hypertension can be a helpful adjunct to lifestyle changes, but they are rarely used as a sole solution. Be sure to take all your medications as directed and refill your prescriptions before they run out.
If you have questions about your blood pressure medications, your pharmacist is an excellent resource. The pharmacist can act as an intermediary with your healthcare provider too, conferring about less expensive generic alternatives, dosage changes, and side effects.
To make it easier to remember to take your prescriptions, use a pill organizer that separates medications by day of the week. There are medication reminder apps for your smartphone that might work too.
A compounding pharmacy can help when medications don’t come in the right dose for your needs or if a necessary medication is difficult to take. They can custom-make prescriptions for you and use alternative formulations to make some medications more palatable or even more effective.
Never stop taking a prescription medication abruptly without consulting with your healthcare provider or pharmacist first. You could suffer health consequences of stopping “cold turkey” without slowly adjusting the dose or finding a substitute. If cost is a factor, talk to your doctor about getting free samples or enrolling in an assistance program offered by some pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Treat conditions related to hypertension
If you have health conditions that contribute to your high blood pressure, it’s important to treat them as well. You may need to see a renal specialist for kidney disease, for example, or use a CPAP machine at night for sleep apnea.
If you have multiple health issues necessitating the use of many healthcare professionals, it’s helpful to find one healthcare provider who can manage all of your care. This might be your primary care provider or your cardiologist. Having one person who knows what’s going on with all aspects of your care can help avoid redundant drug prescriptions and make sure nothing is missing from your care strategy.
Eat a healthy diet
Eating healthily is always a smart wellness strategy. But when you have high blood pressure, it’s extra important. Your physician may refer you to a nutritionist or give you a list of recommended and non-recommended foods, which you should use when planning shopping and meals.
In general, it’s likely you’ll be advised to eat more lean protein sources, such as fish, chicken, and fat-free dairy, as well as more plant-based foods and fewer refined or processed items. Junk food and fast food are no-nos. You may also be encouraged to eat foods high in potassium, like bananas, to reduce the effects of sodium on your blood pressure.
Many healthcare professionals offer the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet as a sound option. It’s been proven to lower blood pressure on its own. And, when combined with reduced sodium intake (see below), it can reduce hypertension even further. The DASH diet gives users plenty of selection, so you won’t feel like you’re being deprived.
Reduce sodium intake
As noted above, eating less salt (sodium) is another key in lowering blood pressure for many people, particularly those who are not careful about sodium intake. On the cellular level, this helps your arteries relax, thereby reducing that constant pressure against their walls that’s so dangerous to your health.
Your doctor or nutrition specialist may give you a limit to how many milligrams of sodium you are allowed to consume daily, usually somewhere around 1,500 mg. In addition to reducing the amount of salt you put on your food when cooking or eating, it means reading food labels for sodium content, just as you would for calories if trying to lose weight. You’d be surprised how much sodium is hidden in foods you eat every day.
Some other strategies for decreasing sodium include:
- Eat more fresh food and less processed food.
- Eliminate junk food known for its saltiness, like chips or french fries, which aren’t healthy anyway.
- Look for low-sodium options of healthy foods that are normally packaged with salt, such as soup and canned vegetables and legumes.
- Cook foods at home so you know what’s going into your meals.
- If you must eat out or order takeout, order from restaurants with transparent sodium content or low-sodium options.
- Reduce your sodium intake gradually so your palate can adjust.
- Replace salt with low- or no-sodium herbs and spices for flavor.
Watch your weight
Hopefully, by attending to your diet and getting enough exercise (see below), any issues you have with your weight will start to resolve too. Blood pressure tends to creep up as the pounds go on, plus it increases the risk of sleep apnea, which, in turn, ups the risk of hypertension even more.
Weight around the middle of the body is especially troublesome when it comes to high blood pressure and heart disease. For men, overall, the risk increases when the waist is larger than 40 inches; for women, anything above 35 inches means a greater tendency towards hypertension.
What’s great is that even a small weight loss can start to reduce your blood pressure. If you’re struggling to lose weight, consult your healthcare professional. You may need help arranging your diet, keeping track of how much food you really consume with a food log, or treating other conditions that can increase weight gain, such as hypothyroidism.
Get plenty of exercise
About a half hour of exercise daily can decrease your blood pressure, just as lowering sodium intake and losing weight can. When you combine all these strategies, you can make a real dent in your blood pressure and general health.
You don’t have to run marathons or do high-intensity exercise for it to be effective, although those certainly help. Activities that work to combat hypertension include:
- Walking and jogging
- Resistance training, like weight lifting or exercise bands
- Circuit training
Even housework and gardening can be beneficial when you do them briskly. The idea is to keep moving and opt for a less sedentary lifestyle wherever possible. Instead of taking the car, can you walk to your destination? Rather than sitting to watch television, why not hop on the treadmill while you’re viewing shows?
Quit smoking and tobacco products
It nearly goes without saying these days that quitting smoking and chewing tobacco is essential for a healthy lifestyle. And if you need a reminder, know that indulging in tobacco products increases blood pressure and puts you at much higher risk for cardiac disease.
Quitting smoking can also help you live longer, and it even makes your skin and hair healthier. Of course, quitting smoking also reduces the amount of secondhand smoke your family and friends are exposed to.
If you need help quitting, your healthcare provider may be able to assist. Medications that help reduce the urge to smoke, nicotine replacement products, and even hypnotism can help you put down the cigarettes for good.
Limit alcohol consumption
You don’t have to quit drinking alcohol completely to lower your blood pressure and reduce other health risks. You just have to moderate your alcohol consumption.
That means one drink per day for women or two drinks for men. What constitutes a drink? One drink equals:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor
Decrease caffeine use
Did you know consuming too much caffeine can also raise your blood pressure? Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, and many colas, as well as in chocolate.
It’s true that the more you drink caffeinated beverages, the more you may become immune to their hypertensive effects. A good way to tell how much caffeine is influencing your blood pressure is to check your pressure before and about 30 minutes after consuming a caffeinated product. If your blood pressure increases, you have your answer, and reducing caffeine should be a goal.
Lower stress levels
Short-term stress can temporarily increase blood pressure, while chronic stress can have more lasting effects on your arteries. It’s good for your overall health to reduce stress.
Ways to lower your stress level include:
- Exercise, particularly outside
- Avoiding triggers, like commuter traffic and arguments
- Talk therapy
- Spending time with pets
- Setting realistic goals, especially for work
- Making time for hobbies and fun
Monitor and log your blood pressure regularly
Sometimes it’s hard to see trends with your blood pressure over time. Checking your blood pressure regularly and recording it in a log can help you tell if your plan to manage hypertension is working or not. Your healthcare provider can suggest the best home blood pressure monitoring device for your unique situation.
Enlist Support And Contact Eldahmy Wellness Pharmacy Today!
Finally, you don’t have to go it alone! Enlisting support, whether from friends, family, or groups of other people with high blood pressure, can help you reach your goals. You can share tips and ideas and get encouragement when you feel challenged.
Eldahmy Wellness Pharmacy wants to be part of your San Diego support team and help you learn more about how to manage high blood pressure. We offer a full array of services, including a retail pharmacy, vitamins and supplements, online shopping, a compounding pharmacy, and free, fast delivery. Reach out today and let us know how we can assist you on your journey to better health.