In recent years changes in diet and lifestyle in many western societies have led to an increase in the number of people suffering from high blood pressure.
High blood pressure (otherwise known as hypertension, or more correctly arterial hypertension) is a serious condition which rarely carries any symptoms and which, if not detected and treated, can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, arterial aneurysm or renal failure – all of which are series life-threatening conditions.
So just what is high blood pressure and what causes it?
The arteries of your body and constantly filled with blood which exerts a normal “background” pressure on the walls of the arteries. As the heart pumps freshly oxygenated blood around the body it forces this blood into the arteries momentarily raising the pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries during each beat of the heart. These two pressures are known as the systolic pressure (the higher pumping pressure of the heart) and the diastolic pressure (the lower “background” pressure).
Normal levels of blood pressure vary from individual to individual but, on average, systolic pressure should be around 120 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury measured on a manometer) and diastolic pressure should be about 80 mm Hg. This is ordinarily expressed as a blood pressure of 120/80.
If your blood pressure starts to rise and remains at a level above 120/80 then you are described as being “prehypertensive” and, while this is not serious in itself, it is an indication that you may be at risk of developing hypertension and the problems associated with it. Once your blood pressure reaches, and maintains, a level of 140/90 or above you are said to be suffering from hypertension and action needs to be taken to reduce your blood pressure.
But what causes your blood pressure to rise and remain elevated?
Well, there are several factors at play here and the first is a group over which you have little, if any, control. This group includes a low birth weight, a variety of genetic factors, certain forms of diabetes (in particular type 2 diabetes) and your age (as we grow older our arteries tend to become fibrous and lose their elasticity, resulting in a smaller cross-sectional area through which the blood can flow).
The second group of factors is much more within your control and includes leading a sedentary lifestyle, high levels of salt and/or saturated fats in the diet, being overweight, smoking, alcohol abuse, stress and working in certain occupations such as flying or motorway maintenance, which involves exposure to long periods of high level roadway noise.
The vast majority of these factors are of course treatable and, in many cases, a simple adjustment to your diet and the addition of some form of exercise into your daily routine is all that is needed to solve the problem. The difficulty however is that, without any real symptoms, most people simply don’t know that they are suffering from high blood pressure in the first place.
So how do you solve the problem?
Fortunately the answer to this question is very simple. All you need to do is to pop into your doctor’s office on a regular basis (for most of us a couple of times a year will do the trick) and ask the doctor, or practice nurse, to check your blood pressure. The whole process is painless, simple and fast and will give you peace of mind and possibly save your doctor a lot of time, work and expense later on when you are forced to present yourself at his office once hypertension has set in.
If, like most people, you are not so keen on visiting your doctor then an excellent alternative today is to simply monitor your own blood pressure at home. A wide range of easy to operate and relatively inexpensive monitors are available today, allowing you to keep an eye on your own health, and that of your family, in the comfort and privacy of your own home.