Who cares? You should.
High blood pressure, also known as Hypertension, is known as the silent killer. High blood pressure often gives no warning signs, but can result in stroke, heart failure, kidney damage, and blindness. Occasionally, there may be subtle signs like ringing or buzzing in the ears, or a pounding heart. Next time you’re in busy place – an elevator, or mall, or even the doctor’s office – start counting. One in every four people has raised blood pressure – 25% of the population. Out of 100 people with blood pressure issues, only 68 of them are aware of their problem, and only 18 of those 68 will have it under control. Scary, isn’t it?
Blood pressure is a measure of how hard the heart is working. You’re probably familiar with the two numbers – Systolic (the strength of the heartbeat) over the Diastolic (how hard the heart squeezes at rest). Ideally, you want that number to be 120/80 millimeters of mercury (that mmHg you see on the dial). More than 130/85, and you’re getting into dangerous territory. More than 140, and you’ve got a problem.
Sometimes high blood pressure runs in families; sometimes it’s due to diet, to being overweight, to certain medications, to certain conditions like diabetes, stress, or panic attacks. Alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure; so can salty foods (especially Ramen, or anything in a can or a box), common antihistamines and cold medications such as Sudafed, any “health” powders, supplements, or drinks containing Ephedra, illegal drugs such as cocaine, and of course, colas, Monsters, energy drinks, coffee, and tea.
One high reading is not a reason to panic. Blood pressure can fluctuate from day to day, even minute to minute. One false reading of high blood pressure is called “white coat hypertension” – people sometimes get nervous in a doctor’s office, or they’ve rushed on the way there and are stressed out. If your doctor takes a reading when he or she first comes into the office, ask to have it taken again just before you leave. Chances are, it will be lower the second time around. Another problem can be a blood pressure cuff that is too small – if you have big arms, whether due to fat or muscle, ask for the larger cuff. A cuff shouldn’t pop off while inflating – if it does, you’re not going to get a reliable reading. Blood pressure readings will also differ if someone is reading it by hand with a stethoscope or if a machine is doing it. Machines tend to read a higher score.
Sometimes blood pressure can be regulated by diet alone: low salt, lots of fruits and vegetables, and moderate exercise. Cut back on alcohol and caffeine (you’ll sleep better, too!). Get your stress under control. If all else fails, there are many good non-expensive medications with few side effects.
High blood pressure is one of those things you don’t want to fool around with, even if you feel perfectly fine. Someone you love is depending on you.