Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): The Silent Killer
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a silent killer that can be caused by Insulin Resistance-related weight gain and obesity.
When The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute revised its blood pressure guidelines, almost 23 million American men who thought they were in the clear suddenly found themselves in a new danger zone called “Pre-Hypertensive.”
You are included in this category if your systolic blood pressure is between 120 and 139 or your diastolic blood pressure is between 80 and 89. Regard it as a wake-up call to take steps to avoid a stroke further down the road.
What exactly are systolic and diastolic blood pressures? Blood pressure is commonly measured by wrapping an inflatable cuff around the upper arm. Air is pumped into the cuff until circulation is cut of, and when a stethoscope is placed over the cuff, there is silence. Then, as the air is slowly let out of the cuff, blood begins to flow again and can be heard through the stethoscope. This is the point of greatest pressure, called systolic, and is usually expressed as how high it forces a column of mercury to rise in a tube.
At its highest normal pressure, the heart should send a column of mercury to a height of about 120 millimeters. At some point, as more and more air is let out of the cuff, the pressure exerted by the cuff is so small that the sound of the blood pulsing against the artery walls subsides and there is silence again. This is the point of lowest pressure, called diastolic, which normally raises the mercury in the column to 80 millimeters.
It is crucial to “know your numbers” with respect to normal and high blood pressure levels. Life-threatening complications to your cardiovascular system can develop over a period of years when Hypertension exists. Increased pressure on the inner walls of blood vessels make the vessels less flexible over time and more vulnerable to the build-up of fatty deposits in a process known as atherosclerosis, a key risk factor in heart disease. (See Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, and Heart Disease.)
Hypertension also forces the heart to work harder to pump adequate blood throughout the body. This extra work causes the muscles of the heart to enlarge. Eventually, the enlarged heart can become inefficient in pumping blood, a condition that can lead to heart failure, when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
|American Heart Association-recommended blood pressure levels|
|Blood Pressure Category||Systolic (mm Hg)||Diastolic (mm Hg)|
|Normal||less than 120||and||less than 80|
|Stage 2||160 or higher||or||100 or higher|
|Source: American Heart Association – www.americaheart.org|
High blood pressure is common. However, only about half of the individuals with high blood pressure know they have it because of its silent build-up. Blood pressure is controlled in just 1 out of every 8 people who have the condition.
The importance of knowing if you have hypertension is that it is a powerful risk factor for some very serious diseases such as angina, heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis, kidney failure, and circulatory problems in the legs, as well as erectile dysfunction.
In 95 percent of cases, there is no specific cause for high blood pressure. A diagnosis of the condition is more common in African Americans than in whites, and becomes more likely with advancing age. People who are obese or Diabetic are more likely to have, or to develop, the disorder.
While high blood pressure can occur in slender, active people, it is much more common in the obese. An important step in avoiding high blood pressure is maintaining an ideal body weight by eating appropriately, including low cholesterol food, and getting sufficient regular exercise.
For many people, slender or obese, high blood pressure is a fact of life. What then should you do? The first step is have your blood pressure checked regularly, so that the diagnosis of hypertension is made early. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once every year.
Once the diagnosis is made, you should reduce the amount of salt and fat in your diet. If you are overweight, losing 10 percent of your body weight can make a significant difference. The majority of individuals who have high blood pressure, however, will need medication.
These medications are proven to save lives, reducing the rate of heart attack, stroke, and the other serious complications of high blood pressure. Generally, these medications are safe, with few serious side effects. Most can be taken just once a day.
Don’t be surprised if, after treating your high blood pressure for a few months, your doctor says that you need a second or third medication. Most people with controlled high blood pressure (consistently under 140/90 mm Hg) require two or three or four different medications, working together, to control their condition.
By following your doctor’s recommendations about medication, you give yourself the best possible chance of avoiding the complications of high blood pressure.
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Combating Heart Disease
Nearly all of us are born with immaculate arteries. But as soon as we learn how to feed ourselves, our arteries begin to go from clean to clogged. Taking better care of our cardiovascular system by watching our weight via a balanced diet and regular exercise goes a long way toward countering this effect. Adopting a healthier lifestyle will add years to your life as well as improving its quality.
If you pass this information on to your children, they, too, can take steps to avoid premature heart disease.
It isn’t just adult men who are especially prone to heart disease. Even pre-menopausal women, who were long considered resistant to “heart trouble,” should learn to reduce the risk factors that can cause damage to their cardiovascular system later in life.
When it comes to heart disease, there are factors that you can’t influence, like genetic vulnerability-we can’t choose our ancestors or alter our genes-and the aging process. But there are plenty of other areas where the effectiveness of taking preventive action is well documented by facts and figures.
Stopping smoking is a prime example. More than 400,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related diseases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette smokers are four times more likely to have heart attacks and develop cardiovascular diseases than non-smokers. Men have a slightly higher risk than women. On average, lifetime smokers have a 50 percent chance of dying from a smoking-related disease. But quitting can quickly begin to nullify the risks-it’s never too late to stop. One year after quitting, your risk of heart disease drops by 50 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Within 15 years a former smoker’s risk of dying from heart disease approaches that of a lifetime non-smoker.
Lowering your LDL “bad” cholesterol has enormous benefits. Doctors and nutritionists have a wealth of information about low-cholesterol diets. Almost everyone who has a heart attack or undergoes bypass surgery is now given a statin, a type of cholesterol-lowering agent, regardless of his or her cholesterol level. The statin drugs that reduce cholesterol also reduce the level of C-Reactive Protein, a marker for inflammation of the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Switching to low-cholesterol food is highly advisable.
Controlling Your Blood Pressure and getting it to normal levels greatly reduces the risk of both stroke and heart attack by slowing down the formation of arterial plaque that narrows the blood vessels everywhere in the body-especially in the heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, and legs.
Managing Your Blood Sugar is vital to avoiding Pre-Diabetes, which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. (See Insulin Resistance, Diabetes, and Heart Disease.) Although Type 2 Diabetes can be managed over a long life, almost 80 percent of Diabetics eventually die from some form of heart or blood vessel disease.
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