By Leon Stephane Gedeon, MD
Board Certified in Family Medicine
Memorial Primary Care
Why is it important for me to know about high blood pressure?
The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States have hypertension, and just over half of these adults have their blood pressure under control. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, and one of the most common causes of heart disease is hypertension. In 2014, hypertension was the primary or contributing cause to an average of 1,100 deaths per day in the United States.
The World Health Organization estimates that, worldwide, hypertension is responsible for 17 million deaths a year, or nearly 1 of every 3 deaths. For most people, hypertension is preventable or controllable.
What is the relationship between blood pressure and the body?
Let’s look at the composition and function of the cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system is made up of the heart and the blood vessels that are responsible for circulating blood throughout the body, mainly to transport oxygen, nutrients, disease-fighting cells, and waste to and from the body parts (or organs). The heart functions as a pump that pushes the blood through pipes called arteries and veins, which lead to and from different organs including the lungs, brain, skin, intestines, kidneys, liver, eyes, genitals and more. In other words, the blood flows from the heart (the pump) through the arteries (pipes) to the organs (body parts), and then back through the veins (the return pipes) to the heart. It is a closed loop. Blood pressure is the force with which the blood flows through the loop and pushes against the walls of the arteries and veins.
What is hypertension, and how can it affect me?
Hypertension is when one’s blood pressure is higher than it should be. High blood pressure is when the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is consistently too high. The higher the blood pressure, the more pressure is applied to the walls of the arteries and veins, and the more back pressure the heart must fight against. If one’s blood pressure stays high long enough it can damage the heart, blood vessels, and many organs that receive blood. In other words, hypertension puts you at great risk for heart disease that can lead to heart failure, heart attack, stroke (also known as brain attack), kidney failure (leading to hemodialysis), eye disease (leading to blindness), and erectile dysfunction, just to list a few. Approximately 7 out of every 10 people who experience their first heart attack have hypertension. Seven out of every 10 people with heart failure have hypertension. Eight out of every 10 people with their first stroke have hypertension.
How do I know if I have hypertension?
Contrary to popular belief, hypertension provides no warning signs or symptoms. The only way to find out if you have hypertension is to actually measure your blood pressure. According to the CDC, 1 out of 5 people with hypertension is not aware they have hypertension. That is why hypertension is known as a silent killer.
Is it true that I can prevent or manage hypertension with diet and exercise?
Yes, hypertension has a direct link to diet and exercise. Eating foods that are low in salt (sodium) and higher in potassium can help maintain normal blood pressure. Beware of processed food seasonings and spices, as they contain a significant amount of salt. It is better to prepare your own seasoning and spices using natural herbs and roots. Exercise by walking at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Avoiding smoking and limiting your alcohol intake can also help maintain lower blood pressure. Maintaining a healthy weight and waist circumference can help you prevent and manage hypertension and its complications. However, you must first consult your healthcare provider to make sure exercising is safe for you.
I was diagnosed with hypertension and was prescribed medications, but I don’t believe in medications. Can I use home remedies instead?
Many home remedies, including bush teas, do indeed help lower blood pressure. The questions are, how much should you take; how many leaves or how big of a root should you boil; and for how many hours or minutes does it lower your blood pressure? Many prescription medications are derived from nature. They, however, are well-studied and labeled, allowing healthcare providers to know how much product is in each tablet or capsule, how long the medication will last in the body, and by which route it is eliminated from the body. This helps us know whether a medication is safe for people who already have kidney or liver disease.
Is it true that blood pressure medications cause kidney and/or liver damage?
The kidneys and liver work to clean the blood. Anything that makes the kidneys and liver work overtime can irritate and potentially hurt them. This includes natural home remedies. For this reason, it is important that you inform your healthcare provider of all the home remedies and prescription medications you take. Your healthcare provider will recommend routine examinations to monitor your kidney and liver function. The main cause of kidney failure in people with uncontrolled hypertension is hypertension itself.
How low should my blood pressure be?
The recommended blood pressure varies based on an individual’s age and other health factors. It is best to follow the personalized health plan provided by your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that for most people, low blood pressure is not a problem unless the person shows signs and symptoms including lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting.
Any last words?
In conclusion, hypertension is a common, silent, and potentially fatal illness that must be taken seriously and managed carefully. The only way to know if you have hypertension is to check your blood pressure. For most, hypertension can be prevented or controlled. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, you must follow your healthcare providers’ recommendations strictly and not wait for signs or symptoms before acting.
Memorial Healthcare System
1750 East Hallandale Beach Boulevard
Hallandale Beach, Florida 33351