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Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

When most people worry about their health, the diseases that come to mind are those that are deadly and well-known, such as cancer and heart disease. But millions of Americans unknowingly have a condition that is capable of killing them. Hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, affects more than 50 million people in the United States and is responsible for about 700,000 deaths a year.

Nerves and hormones control the heart, arteries and kidneys, all of which are responsible for blood pressure. High blood pressure is caused when one or more of these control systems doesn't work properly and blood pressure rises to a harmful level.

According to Carbondale physician Dr. Kim Spence,"If the condition is left untreated, it can result in permanent damage to the small blood vessels of the body. This in turn damages organs such as the heart, kidneys and brain and it increases the risk of heart attack, kidney failure and stroke. It can also cause severe circulation problems".

Although high blood pressure can affect virtually anyone, you are at increased risk if any of the following describe you:

  • family history of high blood pressure
  • overweight
  • diabetic
  • African-American
  • drink alcohol heavily
  • smoke.
Usually the cause of high blood pressure is unknown. Less than ten percent of the cases are the result of an identifiable health problem.

"An example of a normal, healthy blood pressure reading would be 120/80 mm Hg," according to Dr. Spence. "The top number is systolic pressure, which is the pressure in the artery at the time the heart is squeezing blood into the arteries. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which is the pressure of the arteries between the beats of the heart".

If either number is consistently high, you have high blood pressure. Many medications are available to treat high blood pressure and may be necessary, but diet and lifestyle changes are essential. Consider these helpful hints:

  • Increase exercise: 30 minutes of activity every day burns calories, strengthens the cardiovascular system and may help lower blood pressure.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Long-term changes in eating and exercising are required to lose weight. A weight reduction of just ten pounds may help lower blood pressure.
  • Lower sodium intake: Don't add salt to foods. Be wary of highly processed foods and read food labels for sodium content. Excess salt can cause the body to hold extra fluid, which can set the stage for high blood pressure.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption: Don't drink more than one ounce of alcohol daily. It can have a short term effect in increasing blood pressure.
  • Lower stress: Relaxation slows down your heart rate and lowers oxygen requirements of body tissues.

Although there is no cure for high blood pressure, it can usually be controlled. "Everyone should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years, more often if you are in a high-risk group," says Dr. Spence. The high risk group also includes men over 40 and women over 50.

For more information on high blood pressure, contact your primary care physician.

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