The typical image of a person with hypertension (high blood pressure) is an overweight, overworked male executive with a very short fuse. The truth is, high blood pressure affects people of all ages, races, social classes, sizes and shapes, women as well as mean and even children. Although great strides have been made in recent years to control this condition, often it still goes untreated or uncontrolled.
Hypertension is known as the "silent killer" because it doesn't produce any symptoms - at least none that most people are aware of - until considerable damage has already been done. Untreated high blood pressure is the leading cause of strokes, which occur at a rate of a half a million a year in the United States. As a result of hypertension, the heart, because it has to work harder, may become enlarged and less efficient.
What causes Hypertension?
In some people, the system that regulates blood pressure goes awry: arterioles throughout the body stay constricted, driving up the pressure in the larger blood vessels. Sustained high blood pressure - above 140/90 mm Hg, according to most experts - is called hypertension. About 90 percent of all people with high blood pressure have "essential" hypertension - meaning that it has no identifiable cause. In the remaining 10 percent of cases, the elevated blood pressure is due to kidney disease, diabetes, or another underlying disorder.
Risk factors you can't change
Certain unalterable conditions put you at greater risk for developing hypertension. If you fall into one of the following categories, you can avoid compounding your risk by making lifestyle changes.
- Those with a family history
of hypertension are twice as likely to develop it as others. Many
children of hypertensive parents have slightly elevated blood pressure
even as infants.
- Hypertension is more
common and generally more severe among blacks than among whites.
For reasons not completely understood, blacks - especially males
- tend to develop high blood pressure earlier in life, and much
more often with fatal results.
- Hypertension is not related to a person's sex. However, during pregnancy, some women - even those who have never had high blood pressure - develop it.
factors you can change
There's no guarantee that the dietary and lifestyle changes described
below will prevent hypertension or lower elevated blood pressure.
However, a reduction in risk factors for cardiovascular disease will
- Exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system and reduces the risk of heart disease. Most experts recommend aerobic exercise for twenty to thirty minute at least three times a week.
- Some studies suggest that eating too little calcium may result in high blood pressure readings. Low fat dairy products and some leafy green vegetables are the best sources of calcium.
- A magnesium deficiency may be linked to hypertension. Get your magnesium from foods such as low-fat dairy products and grains.
- An adequate potassium intake may help prevent or lower high blood pressure. A diet that contains grains, fruits, and vegetables will supply plenty of potassium since it is abundant in these foods.
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Replacing saturated fats in the diet with polyunsaturated fats may cause a reducing in blood pressure.
- Relaxation techniques
- Biofeedback, hypnosis, mediation, and other relaxation techniques may produce a modest, temporary reduction in blood pressure in some people.