It’s known as the silent killer because the symptoms are virtually nonexistent – that is until significant damage is done. The killer is hypertension, or high blood pressure.
High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood pushing on the walls of the arteries is too high. The force causes small tears in the arteries, which makes it easier for fatty deposits and cholesterol to stick to the walls of the arteries. Over time, the buildup of fatty deposits (plaque) in the arteries causes a decrease in the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. The narrowing of arteries from plaque results in hypertensive heart disease.
Hypertension is fairly common. About one out of every three people have it. In general, slightly more men than women have high blood pressure and the condition is more common with older people. But anyone can have the condition.
While blood pressure generally rises and falls during the day, you can be at increased risk for heart disease and stroke when your blood pressure is consistently high. About twenty percent of people with high blood pressure don’t know they are at risk because they aren’t showing any of the outward symptoms. In 2018, over half million deaths had high blood pressure as a contributing factor.
Hypertensive heart disease is caused by high blood pressure. In addition to narrowing arteries sending less blood to the heart, this disease causes excessive thickening of the heart muscle, which makes it more difficult for your heart to pump. The symptoms of hypertensive heart disease include:
- Chest pain including tightness or pressure in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the neck, back, arms and shoulders
- Persistent cough
- Loss of appetite
- Leg or ankle swelling
If you’ve been told you have high blood pressure, you may have also been informed about the risks that high blood pressure presents. With hypertension, you’ll be at a higher risk for a heart attack, stroke or other conditions. But, the good news is, while you may not be able to reverse the damage already done by having high blood pressure, you can reverse the condition and save your body from further harm. It all comes down to a few lifestyle changes. And if you’re successful, you may not need medication.
First and foremost, check your weight. If your health care provider recommends losing weight, take that advice to heart and start working towards a reasonable goal. There is a definite correlation between weight and blood pressure.
One way to lose weight is to be more active. Walking, running, bicycling, swimming or even dancing about 30 minutes a day will help you get your weight down and blood pressure under control. You can break up the activity into 10 minute intervals if that is easier for you. If you are unable to participate in aerobic activity due to health restrictions, you might benefit from some form of strength training. Strength training like weight lifting has been proven to improve high blood pressure by building lean muscle mass, reducing strain on the arteries and reducing resting heart rate. Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise plan.
If you can’t be more active, try to be more mindful of your eating habits. By eating foods that are lower in sodium and higher in nutrients like potassium, calcium and magnesium you’ll be making a positive change to your blood pressure. The most common recommendation for those suffering from hypertension is the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. In addition to foods with lower sodium, this diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods along with moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts.
You should also limit your alcohol intake and cut back on caffeine, both of which have a tendency to increase blood pressure. Having more than three drinks in one sitting can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. And moderate or binge drinking regularly leads to long term increases in blood pressure. Contrary to the myth about red wine that has been circulating, it does not lower blood pressure. And if you smoke, quit. The nicotine in cigarettes raises blood pressure, narrows the arteries and hardens the artery walls. Smoking also increases the risk for fatty build up in the arteries putting you at risk for blood clots.
If you have a family history of high blood pressure or you’ve been told your blood pressure is high but not under control, schedule a visit with your healthcare provider. Annual check-ups with your healthcare provider can help identify any potential risk factors and get ahead of any problems. By monitoring and managing your blood pressure you’ll be protecting yourself against heart disease.