Currently, high blood pressure is a very common medical condition and it's considered to be a significant and independent risk factor for developing heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 out of every 3 Americans has high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is defined as the pressure that makes blood flow through the arteries when the heart contracts and relaxes. Systolic blood pressure is the measurement taken when the heart contracts which is the higher number. Diastolic blood pressure is the measurement taken when the heart relaxes and this is the lower number. An ideal blood pressure should have a systolic blood pressure lower than 129 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure lower than 80 mmHg. However, there are internal and external factors that can influence and raise blood pressure, thus putting your health at risk.
High blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure over or equal to 140mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure over or equal to 90 mmHg. The range between 130/85 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg is considered borderline high blood pressure. This condition directly increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and kidney damage. Groups at the highest risk are people over 35 years, the elderly, alcoholics, obese people, diabetics, people with kidney failure, and women who take birth control.
Taking your blood pressure regularly is important especially if you fit into one of these high risk groups for developing this condition. In addition, you must pay attention to the following signs and symptoms: chest pains, dyspnea or difficulty breathing, low tolerance to exercise, dizziness when changing positions very quickly and headaches. However, in most cases no symptoms are shown.
In most high blood pressure cases, there is no one specific cause and this is called primary high blood pressure. In these cases, a lot of time can pass without you even knowing you have the disease since the symptoms are slight and not very obvious. When there is a specific cause behind the development of the disease, this is known as secondary high blood pressure. The most important secondary causes are: obesity, kidney abnormalities, narrow arteries, and anatomical abnormalities of the aorta, the use of androgens or growth hormones, an excessive consumption of alcohol, hyperthyroidism (excessive work of the thyroid) , high level of aldosterone (hormone in charge of the sodium and water balance in the body, the use of vessel constricting drugs, or medicines such as nasal decongestants.
Current recommendations for preventing high blood pressure focus on non-pharmacological therapies. Recommendations are modifying your lifestyle which includes losing weight, decreasing your intake of sodium, increasing daily physical activity, limiting your consumption of alcoholic drinks, and going on a DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
The DASH diet is low in saturated fats and cholesterol, moderate in sodium(less than 3g a day), and high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber. It encourages consuming fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole wheat flour, whole grains, white meat, and nuts. This diet recommends a daily consumption of 3 servings of dairy products, 4-5 servings of fruits, 4-5 servings of vegetables, 7-8 servings of whole grains, 2 servings or less of white meat, 4-5 servings of legumes (beans, lentils, and garbanzo beans), nuts, and seeds.
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