High blood pressure is one of our most common health problems and is steadily increasing in most modern societies. Knowing that you have this condition can be very disturbing, especially if you don’t fully grasp what’s behind it and the implications for your future health. But when you understand what’s going on inside your body you’ll be better able to cope with it and to find effective options for treating it.
The heart pumps blood throughout the body to supply vital organs and functions with oxygen and other nutrients. Blood pressure is the force exerted on the walls of our blood vessels as blood circulates throughout the body. Blood pressure readings are always associated with two numbers; the higher one is called systolic and the lower is diastolic. Systolic blood pressure is the force of the blood when the heart beats. Diastolic pressure is the pressure at rest between heartbeats. Both numbers are important but doctors tend to look more closely at systolic pressure as people begin to age and their blood pressure starts to increase.
In a healthy circulatory system blood flows relatively easily through relaxed, flexible and unrestricted blood vessels. Under these ideal circumstances blood pressure tends to measure around 120 systolic over 70 diastolic. However, blood pressure will increase whenever there is something that restricts blood flow or makes it harder for the heart to pump. This could be in response to strenuous activity, for instance, when the muscles need more blood. This is entirely normal and blood pressure will return to normal when the body rests.
However, there are many other, unhealthy circumstances that can cause blood pressure to rise. Fatty deposits called plaque can build up in the arteries, usually caused by a poor diet. These build-ups obstruct blood flow, just like blocking up a water hose, and increase the pressure and load on the heart. Another thing that can cause the heart to work harder and increase blood pressure is excess weight.
There are many things that can cause your blood pressure to rise but when the increase becomes consistent above a certain level you will be diagnosed with high blood pressure, or hypertension. High blood pressure is usually considered to start at 140 over 90, although many doctors consider anything over 130/80 to be a potential risk and they refer to it as pre-hypertension.
So let’s say you have hypertension. What are the risks and how are you going to lower your blood pressure? The first part of the answer is easy. If not treated and controlled, hypertension can lead to many serious health problems. These include heart disease, kidney disease and even eye damage including blindness.
The heart and circulatory consequences are easy to explain. Constant high pressure against your blood vessels can lead to arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. This condition will contribute to further pressure on the heart. The combination of hardened and partially blocked arteries can eventually trigger a heart attack. Or, plaque can break loose from within an artery and cause a blockage elsewhere in the body. The result is often a stroke.
The good news is that high blood pressure can be treated and it’s even easier to prevent. Most experts agree that the vast majority of cases of hypertension will respond well to positive lifestyle changes. And if you make such changes early enough you will prevent high blood pressure in the first place.
Forearmed with the knowledge of what poor quality food can do to your arteries you are more likely to eat a healthy diet. Being aware of the extreme load placed on your heart by being overweight may help you stay active and fit and to keep an eye on your weight. Maybe even more important than weight alone is your Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a fair indicator of the ratios of fat and muscle in your body. A healthy BMI is 25 or less.
It’s important to take your blood pressure seriously and keep it in check with a healthy lifestyle. The only other alternative with high blood pressure is to use powerful medications. These are usually effective at dropping your blood pressure but at the cost of numerous unpleasant side effects. The choice should be easy. Forewarned is forearmed.