Maintaining a normal blood pressure level is vital to your health. Unfortunately, many people suffer from high blood pressure, which can cause a number of issues that range from minor to life-threatening.
In this post, we’ll examine what blood pressure is, how to best manage it and why it’s important for your health to keep it low.
What is blood pressure and why is it important?
Blood pressure is how your blood gets moved through walls of your arteries — it’s the actual force triggered by the heart. When the heart contracts and pushes out blood, that’s called systolic blood pressure; when the heart relaxes and blood fills in, that’s called diastolic blood pressure. Without functioning blood pressure, your heart can’t properly pump the blood it needs to keep you alive.
What are the effects of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can develop into severe, life-threatening conditions. Some of the complications of hypertension include:
Artery damage. Typical, healthy arteries are strong and flexible with a lining so smooth that blood flows easily through them. High blood pressure can impact these artery walls so that fats collect in the damaged areas, and the blood flow is limited throughout your body.
Kidney failure. Because your kidneys filter waste from your blood, they need healthy blood vessels to do so. When you have high blood pressure, your arteries and vessels can be damaged, which can scar the kidneys and prevent them from doing their filtration job. This results in fluid and waste build up, which can cause serious damage and may necessitate dialysis treatment or even a kidney transplant.
Eye damage. Because small blood vessels supply blood to your eyes, high blood pressure can damage them and cause retinopathy. The effects of retinopathy can range from blurred vision to complete loss of vision. Optic neuropathy can also occur, which results from a blocked blood flow that can kill nerve cells in your eyes, resulting in bleeding and vision loss.
Compromised sleep. High blood pressure may trigger sleep apnea, and the sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea can elevate your blood pressure. This results in a very unhealthy cycle of exhaustion.
Dementia. High blood pressure can impact cognitive functions in the brain and lead to problems with speaking, thinking, retaining memory and movement.
Stroke. High blood pressure can cause blood clots to form in the arteries that lead to your brain and/or damage your brain’s blood vessels and cause them to leak. Both of these situations can lead to a stroke, which happens when your brain lacks oxygen and nutrients, forcing brain cells to die.
Aneurysm. A bulge called an aneurysm forms when blood pulses through a weakened artery (the weakness can be caused by high blood pressure). If one of these bulges ruptures, life-threatening internal bleeding can result.
Heart attacks. The strain on your heart from sustaining an elevated blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, which can also be life threatening.
Though high blood pressure typically happens over time, if you experience sudden symptoms such as chest pains, dizziness or memory loss, seek medical help immediately.
How do I monitor high blood pressure?
A simple and painless blood pressure test will help you monitor your blood pressure. You can find these apparatuses in pharmacies and clinics (usually free to use) or opt to purchase an inexpensive home monitor.
The home monitors typically feature a bicep cuff that you can adjust to fit your size. Once you have it on, be still and don’t exercise, smoke or drink anything that contains caffeine for at least 30 minutes prior to your self-test.
Once you measure your levels, compare those numbers to the guidelines your doctor provides and record them. Repeat the process at the same time every day to get the most accurate measures and report your progress over time. Consult with your doctor if you have high blood pressure that doesn’t change when you make lifestyle changes.
How do I lower high blood pressure?
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to lower high blood pressure:
Exercise. Being physically fit is a great way to reduce high blood pressure. Be sure to choose an exercise you enjoy so that you’ll stick with it.
Meditate. Regulating your breathing is good for you both mentally and physically. Stress hormones constrict your blood vessels, which can raise your blood pressure in sudden spurts. Meditation can relieve the stress that causes these reactions.
Modify your diet. Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables (especially those high in potassium) and reducing the amount of high-sodium foods you eat can help reduce high blood pressure. Limiting alcohol and processed foods is also important.
Medicine. If you’ve made lifestyle changes and you still need help controlling your high blood pressure, a doctor may choose to prescribe you with medication. The type and dosage of medication would be determined by your individual needs.
When should I consult a medical professional?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of high blood pressure or need help managing your existing high blood pressure, seek assistance from Western Washington Medical Group Primary Care or in more severe cases, one of our Cardiology providers. They provide a broad range of diagnostic services and condition monitoring.
If you’re unsure where to start, complete our general contact form with your inquiry.