Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a serious medical condition that can affect your circulatory health and the health of your other organ systems. According to the CDC, 47% of US adults (116 million) have hypertension or are taking medication for it, but only 24% of those living with it have it under control. In 2019, it was the primary or contributing cause of death for almost 500,000 individuals.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, with locations in Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas, Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman stress the importance of regular blood pressure checks to prevent hypertension. And because many of the contributing factors for the disease can be controlled by lifestyle changes, they want to make sure you know what to do to prevent this “silent killer” from developing.
What is blood pressure?
Before you can understand what hypertension is, you need to know what a blood pressure monitor measures. The inflatable cuff around your arm, whether manually or electronically inflated, measures blood flow in the arteries (tubes filled with oxygenated blood pumped out by the heart) and records two numbers, which it reports as one number “over” the other.
The top number measures how much pressure the blood exerts against the artery walls when the heart beats. This number is called the systolic pressure. The bottom number measures how much pressure the blood exerts when the heart is resting between beats. This number is called the diastolic pressure.
In a healthy adult, a “normal” blood pressure reading has historically been 120/80 or less. However, in 2017, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association both published new guidelines defining hypertension as a reading at or above 130/80 mmHg, with Stage 2 hypertension falling at or above 140/90 mmHg.
If your readings exceed these numbers, it means your heart has to work harder to pump blood — hypertension. High pressure can not only damage the blood-carrying vessels (arteries and veins), but it can also damage your eyes, kidneys, and brain. Hypertension usually doesn’t present with symptoms in its early stages, but it can lead to serious complications, even death; hence, it’s name, the “silent killer.”
Complications of hypertension
Your circulatory system vessels can withstand a certain amount of force from blood flow. However, if the pressure exceeds those amounts, especially if it remains elevated over a long period — it becomes chronic — it can damage the vessel walls, creating rough patches where cholesterol, protein, fats, calcium, and cellular debris build up, forming a sticky plaque that eventually hardens, narrowing the vessels. This condition is called atherosclerosis. Now that the vessels are narrowed, the heart has to pump even harder to push the same amount of blood out to the body, causing a positive feedback loop.
Atherosclerosis can cause life-threatening problems, including:
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
- Congestive heart failure
- Heart attack
- Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in lungs)
- Stroke (blood clot in brain)
- Chronic kidney disease and kidney failure
Lifestyle tips for managing your hypertension
Most causes of hypertension can be traced to lifestyle factors; here’s what you need to do.
Shed the pounds
The more you weigh, the more blood you require to supply your body with oxygen and other nutrients. A larger blood volume leads to increased pressure on the artery walls and an increased risk of tissue damage. Extra weight also puts an extra strain on your heart, forcing it to pump harder.
Couch potatoes generally have higher heart rates than those who exercise regularly; the higher the rate, the harder your heart has to pump with each contraction, and the stronger the force on your artery walls. Lack of exercise also increases the risk of being overweight or obese, putting you in double jeopardy.
Get rid of the tobacco
All forms of tobacco — smoking, vaping, and chewing — raise your blood pressure immediately, though temporarily. However, the chemicals in the tobacco can damage your arteries, causing them to narrow and harden and your heart to pump harder to compensate. Secondhand smoke also increases risk.
Decrease your sodium, increase your potassium
Our Western diet is high in sodium (sodium chloride, or table salt), and too much sodium causes your body to retain fluid. The increased fluid elevates your blood pressure. Potassium is another type of salt, one that helps balance the amount of sodium in the cells. Too much potassium is also no good, but too little potassium leads to a buildup of sodium. Try to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and stay away from processed foods.
If you haven’t taken your blood pressure recently, it’s time to come into Northwest Houston Heart Center for a pressure check and a discussion of your cardiac risks. Give us a call at any one of our locations, or book online with us today.