HEALTH TALK: Is there high blood pressure in your future?

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HEALTH TALK: Is there high blood pressure in your future?
Dr. Victor Emanuel
Dr. Victor Emanuel

If you’ve been on planet Earth in the last two years, you could not have missed the buzz words “Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases” in the print and electronic media.

The focus has tended to be on diabetes for some reason but, in fact, hypertension is more prevalent and has a higher incidence.

I would not wish to minimize the importance of diabetes in any manner, but I think hypertension issues ought to be given more prominence.

At least, most people with diabetes will be symptomatic, but the only way that we can determine whether most people are hypertensive is to put that cuff around their arm and MEASURE it. In other words, for the most part, it presents NO symptoms.

Sure, in many cases, there is the headache and dizziness at high readings, but this constitutes the minority of cases.

Pre-hypertension: Are You At Risk?

A blood pressure reading of 120/80 mmHg used to be considered textbook normal. However, according to guidelines in existence for about a decade now, this reading is higher than normal – or pre-hypertension. It is a warning sign that you may get high blood pressure in the future.

A higher than normal blood pressure means your heart and arteries work much harder, which can lead to hardening of the arteries.

High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, heart failure, and kidney failure.

Is There A Cure For Hypertension?

That depends. There are two basic classifications of high blood pressure: 1) Primary, which constitutes well over 90 percent of cases, meaning no cause can ever be found. If you can’t find a cause, then essentially there is no cure; 2) Secondary, meaning there is something causing your high blood pressure which, if we can cure or remove,  we can cure your high blood pressure. A secondary cause may be even some medication you’re taking.

Especially for primary cases, we can talk about treatment, though not cure, with diet, lifestyle habits and medications.

What Is Pre-hypertension?

Pre-hypertension indicates that the systolic (top number) reading is 120-139 mmHg, or the diastolic (bottom number) reading is 80-89 mmHg.

While I’m at it, let me just tell you what the blood pressure categories are. Prehypertension was just defined. So a NORMAL blood pressure reading is actually 119/79mmHg or below.

Stage I   hypertension:            140/90 mmHg to 159/99 mmHg.

Stage II  hypertenison:            160/100 mmHg or above.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: we know that starting as low as 115/75 mmHg, the risk of heart attack and stroke doubles for every 20-point jump in systolic blood pressure or every 10-point rise in diastolic blood pressure for adults age 40-70.

Risk Factors

People with pre-hypertension may have a greater number of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. These risk factors – such as cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes – are seen more in people with prehypertension than in those with normal blood pressure.

Is Pre-hypertension A Result Of Aging?

The simple answer is NO. In some parts of the world, there is a minimal rise in blood pressure with aging. In the Mexico and the South Pacific for instance, people have very low salt intake. In these areas the age-related rise in blood pressure is small compared with the U.S.

Is There Treatment For Pre-hypertension?

Pre-hypertension is a warning sign. It means that you’re at greater risk of high blood pressure. Depending on your blood pressure and risk factors for heart disease, you may only need to make lifestyle adjustments.  Here are some tips to help you manage pre-hypertension:

– Loose Weight If You’re Overweight. Just as being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure, losing weight can lower high blood pressure. Modest weight loss can prevent hypertension by 20% in overweight people with pre-hypertension.

– Exercise regularly. This helps you to lose weight and to lower your blood pressure.

– Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and low-fat dairy. Studies show high blood pressure can be lowered and prevented with the DASH diet. This diet is low in sodium and high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber.

– Cut back on dietary salt/ sodium. This is something every nurse, doctor or health educator has been preaching to you. Aim for about one teaspoon of table salt daily.

– Eat foods low in saturated and trans fat and cholesterol. A lot of saturated fat (meats and high-fat dairy), trans fat (some margarine, snack foods, and pastries) and cholesterol (organ meats, high-fat dairy, and egg yolks) may lead to obesity, heart disease and cancer.

– Eat a plant-based or vegetarian diet. Increase servings of fruits and vegetables by adding one serving at a time. You can add a serving of fruit at lunchtime. Then add a serving of vegetables at dinner (or light supper).

– Drink only in moderation. Excess alcohol can raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than two drinks per day (preferably red wine), and women should have no more than one.

It’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. Know your blood pressure number. Monitor at home between doctor’s visits and let him know if your numbers seem to be going out of control.

Take this thing seriously. Don’t wait for symptoms to have yourself checked. By that time, it really might be too late.

See you next week.

Dr. Emanuel, based in the Commonwealth of Dominica, has been an educator of medical professionals, in training and the public, for over 20 years.  

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