Unlike a garden hose and watching the water spurt out, if someone has high blood pressure you cannot tell by looking at them. Additionally, there are not really any symptoms either. Dr. Brain Clements, an Internal Medicine Physician with Intermountain Medical Center, explained what negative effects can happen over time because of extra blood pressure.
Negative effects over time:
- Damages and hardens the arteries.
- Weakens the artery walls, making them more likely to break or burst.
- Promotes fatty plaque buildup – called atherosclerosis – which narrows the arteries and restricts blood flow.
- Increases the amount of work the heart has to do. This can eventually enlarge and weaken the heart muscle.
These changes affect the heart and all of the arteries in the body. They also reduce oxygen delivery to other organs – such as the brain, the kidneys, and the eyes. This can cause heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and other health problems.
Before diagnosing high blood pressure, your healthcare providers will check – and recheck – your blood pressure. They’ll also ask questions about your personal and family health history, check your weight, and possibly do some lab tests. Part of the reason for these tests is to find out if another condition is causing your high blood pressure – or if your high blood pressure is leading to other problems (such as heart disease or kidney disease).
Our blood pressure varies throughout the day and night and if you are ill or well over all. To really know if you have high blood pressure, it requires some thoughtful questions from your provider, maybe a lab test or two, and some accurate blood pressure checks.
When your blood pressure is checked, and if it is consistently above 140/90, (either number) you likely have high blood pressure and need to takes steps to control it. Don’t trust that because you don’t feel sick, that there is nothing wrong. There are no symptoms of high blood pressure, what happens is that silently and stealthily high pressure inside your vessels are causing small little injuries to your body. Over time this can mean significant problems for your blood vessels, stress on your heart, extra pressure on the kidneys and eyes.
The good news is high blood pressure is a common condition. One that can usually be treated by making a few lifestyle changes and starting on some medication. It’s worth the conversation with your primary care provider to get answers about what are the next steps you need to take to keep you healthy.
Before you see your provider, take a moment to think about the following things so you can discuss your plan:
- What do I usually eat? Am I eating fruits and vegetables? Or are most of my food choices fried and salted? Your provider is going to recommend you eat more of these foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats and oils (such as olive or canola oil), lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. They are also going to recommend eating less of these foods: saturated fats and sugar?
- What am I doing to be active? What would I like to do to increase my activity level? What are your goals for movement? Your provider will recommend that you work up to getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity most days of the week, like a brisk walk.
- How much alcohol am I drinking? Alcohol makes high blood pressure worse. Your provider will recommend that if you are a man, you it is important to have no more than 2 drinks a day or 1 for a woman to help keep your blood pressure in control.
- How am I doing with my stress levels? Am I taking care of my emotional health? Am I focusing on things that I cannot control? What one thing can you do today to decrease your stress level? Your provider knows that emotional health is as important as physical health and can offer some suggestions for managing emotional concerns as well.
How to lower high blood pressure
If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it’s important to control it as soon as possible. In most cases, high blood pressure is controlled using both lifestyle change and medications. For some people, it may be possible to control their blood pressure using lifestyle change only.
Eat a heart-healthy diet:
What changes would I need to make? Eat MORE of these foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats and oils (such as olive or canola oil), lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. Eat LESS of these foods: saturated fats and sugar. For more specific guidelines, follow the Diet Approaches to Stop Hypertension (the DASH diet).
Exercise every day:
What changes would I need to make? On most days of the week, get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as a brisk walk. You can break it up into segments of as little as 10 minutes at a time. If you’re not able to exercise for 30 minutes a day right now, start with 10 minutes a day and build up a little at a time.
Reduce sodium (salt) in your diet:
What changes would I need to make? Consume no more than 2400 mg of sodium per day. (Consuming as little as 1500 mg sodium per day can lower blood pressure even more). If you cannot reduce sodium that much, then reduce sodium intake by at least 1000 mg per day from what you’re eating now.
What changes would I need to make? If you’re a man, don’t have more than 2 drinks a day. If you’re a woman, don’t have more than 1 drink a day.
What changes would I need to make? Take steps to identify what’s causing you stress. Take steps to reduce stress in your life.
Questions to ask your doctor
Once you have begun thinking about potential lifestyle changes and contributing factors to high blood pressure you need to make an appointment to see your provider. They want to work with you to help you be as healthy as possible. This also means you’ll need to understand what their instructions mean.
Consider these questions to ask when you are at your appointment:
Should I measure my blood pressure at home? How often should I be checking my blood pressure?
For most people with high blood pressure, home monitoring is an important part of the treatment plan. Ask your health care provider how often you should measure and record your blood pressure. When you’re first diagnosed with high blood pressure, or after changes to your medications, you may be asked to take your blood pressure daily – maybe even twice a day (morning and evening). Once your blood pressure becomes more stable, you can monitor less frequently.
What type of physical activity is best?
How often do you need to follow-up with your provider? Recommendations are usually every 2-4 weeks until your blood pressure is in control.
When I check my blood pressure and it is out of range, when should I call my provider about it? What is the range of ok? And when should I worry?
With my new medication, what side effects are normal? What side effects should I call you about?
Working together with your provider can help you create a plan to keep your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys well for a long time. You can also reap the benefits of good health by knowing you are caring for your body.
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