High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

There are a number of factors that cause Americans to experience high blood pressure. We are heavier than we have ever been, with 65% either overweight or obese. Only 24% of us exercise vigorously at least three times a week. We smoke too much (22% of adults still light up.) We drink too much, and with our fetish for fast and processed foods, we are practically pickling ourselves with salt.

Evidence shows that hypertension can be controlled but it takes a long and committed effort.

Most people with hypertension have what is called essential hypertension. This is high blood pressure caused by lifestyle. Doctors primarily agree that a reading of 120/80 or below is normal. 140/90 represents that onset of hypertension. 160/100 is considered stage 2 hypertension and 220/120 is the onset of malignant hypertension. Malignant hypertension is pressure so high that fluid is squeezed from vessels into the brain and blood leakes out of capillaries into the liquid that fills the eyeballs. Malignant hypertension is a medical emergency.

Traditionally, readings between 120/80 and 140/90 have been labeled borderline, less likely to require drugs or other intervention. Now when the systolic (first number) reading is 115 or higher, experts believe the patient may be approaching danger. Pressure varies from moment to moment and day to day, but a reading that hits the danger zone on two separate visits to the doctorm may signal trouble.

The course of action for correcting hypertension varies from case to case, but some steps are obvious. Smoking, which is potentially lethal for everyone, is poison for the hypertensive. Controlling weight is also vital. The NHLBI promotes an eating plan called the DASH diet. The DASH diet has menus low in fats, salt, cholesterol, red meat and sweets and high in fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, poultry, nuts, and low-fat dairy foods. Alcohol consumption should be limited, with men having two drinks or fewer a day and women just one. Exercise is important, with aerobic activity, as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking, recommended for three or four days a week.

For many people, lifestyle changes are not enough. In such cases, drugs are the answer. If the drugs are going to work, patients must actually take them. Many of the medications can have mild side effects, including fatigue, dry cough, and occasional erectile difficulties in men. When people face a disease that causes no symptoms and a treatment that does, it’s no surporise which one they sometimes choose. That is a very bad idea because the alternative to medicatioin may be early death but also because side effects can be easily minimized or eliminated.

No matter what form hypertension treatment takes, patients have to accept that like diabetes, the disease is one that will never really go away. Manage lifestyle improvements though, and even the most severely hypertensive patients can buy themselves many more healthy years.