Being told you have high blood pressure (hypertension) can be worrying. This resource aims to address those concerns, by helping you understand what high blood pressure is, what can cause it and what lifestyle changes you can make to reduce it, so as to improve the length and quality of your life.
What is blood pressure?
Everyone has blood pressure. It is the measurement of the force with which the blood is being pumped through the body’s arteries by the heart.
This is affected by how easily the blood can flow through the arteries and how well the heart is pumping. Because a heart beat has two parts so does blood pressure. The first and highest measurement, (systolic) measures the pressure of blood in the arteries as the heart pumps out blood. The second (diastolic) measures it, when the heart is resting, taking in blood. This is usually measured with a sphygmomanometer, a cuff rapped around the arm and inflated by the doctor or nurse. In young adults their blood pressure should be around 120/80. As blood pressure tends to rise due to age, in older people it can be still normal around 160/90. What is considered to be high blood pressure, is dependant on your age and the illnesses you have had. Your doctor will tell you what is considered ‘normal’ for you.
What causes high blood pressure?
There are many factors that can contribute to high blood pressure, such as being over weight, drinking to much alcohol, poor diet, stress, lack of exercise and the side effects of certain drugs and diseases.
Why is high blood pressure a problem?
One of the difficult factors with blood pressure is that the person who has it, may not be aware of it. Even people who are told they have high blood pressure, may doubt it, or think it isn’t serious, because they don’t feel ill. High blood pressure is serious problem, because it puts continual increased pressure on the artery walls, which is believed to weaken and damage them, particularly if they are already diseased due to a build up of cholesterol deposits. Research also shows that continued high blood pressure increases the risk of strokes, heart problems and kidney disease. Because of increased risk of these illnesses it is very important that you follow your doctors instructions about any medication you may need and work with your practice nurse towards making any life style changes that can improve your health.
What you can do to reduce it.
It is very important to look at the your lifestyle and take positive action to change the parts of it that could be causing your blood pressure. Some of the life style changes you can make to reduce your blood pressure and improve your health are:
If you are a smoker it is important to become a non smoker: smoking increases blood pressure which can lead to damage of the blood vessels and heart. This damage will increase if you continue to smoke. If you decide to give up, your doctor, practice nurse, or local pharmacy may be able to help you.
Eat a good diet. Be sensible about the amount of fats in your diet, in particular cut down on the amount of saturated fat you eat. [use vegetable oils instead of lard, avoid too many pastries and dairy products] Eat plenty of fibre rich foods, fresh fruit and vegetables. Unless told otherwise by your doctor, you should moderate the amount of salt you use, don’t put salt on your food at the table. It is also best to drink only moderate amounts of alcohol. For many people this will mean reducing the amount of alcohol they drink. It is wise to have no more than, two or three drinks two or three times a week.
You should try to lose any excessive weight: Your doctor will tell you if you need to lose weight and may refer you to a dietician for more advice. Keeping your weight close to that recommended for your height will help keep your blood pressure down and reduce your heart’s workload. It is better to lose weight gradually about one or two lb. a week till you reach your right weight. Your practice nurse or dietician will be able to advise you on reducing your weight and eating healthily.
Your should try to be physically active: Regular physical activity is very important. It helps control your stress, keeps your blood pressure and weight down. Also most people look and feel better when they are fit. If you are not used to much physical activity it is important to take time to get fitter, start slowly, listen to your body. Walking; swimming; golf; cycling or dancing are all good for the system, however other highly intensive or competitive activities may need to be avoided till your blood pressure is ‘normal’. Your doctor can advise you about this.
Reduce the stress in your life or learn how to relax and cope with it so it doesn’t cause your blood pressure to rise. Your practice nurse may be able to help you with this, or you may know some basic relaxation techniques yourself.
Take any medication as instructed by your doctor and get your blood pressure checked regularly. This is very important, however if you have any problems with your medication ask the doctor or your pharmacist they will be able to advice you.
It may be possible to reduce your blood pressure by lifestyle changes alone, but often drugs are also needed to reduce it to a safe level. Any changes you make in your life style, like stopping smoking or losing weight, may not be easy to sustain, but the benefits to length and quality of your life will be worth the effort. It is important to look as the issues and the life style changes that have the most benefit for you; set yourself achievable goals; plan carefully how to manage and maintain these changes.
You will need to look at and recognise where you might find problems and how these can be overcome; you may also need support from family/friends. Don’t forget there are many health care staff who can help you i.e. your doctor; practice nurse; dietician; pharmacy staff etc. Good luck and remember it is you that can do the most to improve your health.