High blood pressure: stopping a common killer

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Roughly 29% of Americans suffer from high blood pressure. Hypertension can lead directly to heart disease, strokes, and kidney failure, and more advanced cases can cause immediate headaches, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and death. Here’s how to prevent it and how to deal with it.

First: What Does the Systolic Blood Pressure Number Mean?

When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of the body. This force creates pressure on the arteries. This is called systolic blood pressure.

A normal systolic blood pressure is below 120.

A systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 means you have prehypertension, or borderline high blood pressure. Even people with prehypertension are at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

A systolic blood pressure number of 140 or higher is considered to be hypertension, or high blood pressure.

What Does the Diastolic Blood Pressure Number Mean?

The diastolic blood pressure number or the bottom number indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.

A normal diastolic blood pressure number is less than 80.

A diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 89 indicates prehypertension.

A diastolic blood pressure number of 90 or higher is considered to be hypertension or high blood pressure.

 

How Is Blood Pressure Measured?

Blood pressure is measured with a simple, painless test using a blood pressure cuff — doctors call it a sphygmomanometer. It consists of a small pressure gauge that is attached to a cuff.

Get one. Home testers are cheapish. The one shown here is under $30.  You can keep an eye on your own pressure by checking a couple of times a week. Find out what stresses you out (although you probably already know!)

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Blood Pressure Fixes

First, you should consider making changes to your diet. A study conducted in 2008 found a strong link between insulin resistance and high blood pressure. Insulin resistance is caused by a diet high in sugar and bad carbs, and low in good carbs. Cutting back on the sweets and eating more whole grains might help lower your blood pressure. Other studies have confirmed that consuming more potassium and fiber can lower blood pressure. Magnesium is currently held to be particularly beneficial for blood pressure as well as heart disease and osteoporosis.

As with most health advice controlling your BP starts with eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and poultry. It appears though that salt, for years cast as the villain in the heart attack drama, is on probation and might not be quite as bad for us as feared.

As with nearly every other ailment, exercise can also help cure high blood pressure. Do it for 30 minutes a day to help cure your hypertension.

Work

There’s a direct correlation between how busy you are and how high your blood pressure is.

According to an astonishing study done by the University of California at Irvine, working  overtime (more than 40 hours a week) can raise your risk of high blood pressure by 15%.

Working too hard causes stress and all the problems that follow. And those who are working too hard tend to eat more junk food and get less exercise. If you have high blood pressure, take a deep breath and try putting in a few less hours at the office. Disciplines like yoga and other forms of meditation can also relieve your stress and lower your blood pressure. If you live alone, you might want to get a pet or hang out with animals as they do a good job of chilling us out. It appears there’s an oxytocin mechanism that kicks in when dogs particularly look at us. Our happiness hormone is produced when they stare at us, which prompts us to pet them, which raises their levels and they keep staring. It’s a virtuous circle of calm.

Tiny SquirrelThe Squirrel says: Try this on for a bizarre connection: high blood pressure can actually be linked to snoring. Snoring is one of the primary symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA sufferers produce a hormone called aldosterone, which is known to boost blood pressure. In fact, one study actually found that half of all people with OSA have hypertension. Your doctor should be able to help your treat your OSA and thus lower your blood pressure in the process. You’ll need to do a sleep test. If they uncover apnea you’ll be prescribed a machine to help you control the airflow to your lungs called a CPAP machine.