I received a question a while ago from a woman asking me the following:
“I’ve had high blood pressure for three years now, lost weight, have now quick smoking, will I always have to take these blood pressure pills or can I one day get off them? If so what more can I do to increase my health so that I won’t be dependent upon this medication for the rest of my life.”
Well, to answer this question, I want to first let people know what high blood pressure is, what it can do to the body, and what causes it. Also, I want to talk a little about medications, and what people can do to live a healthier life while dealing with high blood pressure.
What is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?
Arteries and veins are made up of muscle and tissue that is somewhat elastic, meaning that it is made to be somewhat stretchy (notice somewhat, meaning that it’s not supposed to stretch a lot). This ability to stretch allows blood to flow from the heart to the rest of the body. This flow of blood naturally creates a force against the tissue that makes up the wall of the artery.
High blood pressure, by definition, is when the force produced when blood is pushed through your arteries and veins is high enough to cause damage to them, which ultimately causes health problems. It has little to no symptoms, and even though it can be easily diagnosed, most people are unaware that they have it (one of the reasons why it is called the “silent killer”). According to the American Heart Association, too much force on the arteries can lead to:
- Vascular weakness. Because the wall of your artery or vein is damaged, it becomes weak and is more likely to rupture, which can increase the risk of having a heart a stroke or an aneurysm.
- Vascular scarring. The damage caused by stretching the artery wall (or vein wall) too much causes little tiny cracks and scars in the wall. These cracks and scars catch things that may be floating in the blood, such as cholesterol, plaque, and blood cells.
- Increased risk of blood clots. Blood that is trapped from the scars in the walls of the veins or arteries can create clots that can narrow or even block the vessels. Sometimes these clots can break free and start to move. This can increase the chance of heart attacks and strokes.
- Increased build up of plaque. Cholesterol and plaque build up in the blood vessels can limit blood flow or cut it off completely. When this happens, the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body, which increases blood pressure as well. Also, if plaques break off or if it builds up and cuts off blood flow to parts of the body, it can increase the chance for strokes and heart attacks.
- Narrowed and blocked arteries causing tissue and organ damage. If blood is not reaching tissues and organs, oxygen is not reaching tissues and organs. Part of a blood cell’s job is to deliver oxygen to tissues and organs. When this doesn’t happen, tissues and organs can suffer from hypoxia, an abnormally low concentration of oxygen in the tissues and organs, or anoxia, which is a lack of oxygen in the tissues and organs. This will cause damage to tissues and organs.
- Increased workload on the circulatory system. The circulatory system is made up of the heart, blood vessels, and blood. Part of the circulatory system’s job is to pump blood throughout the body. Increased blood pressure will cause this system to work harder. And working harder is not a great thing in this case.
High blood pressure, over time, can cause damage to the heart, eyes, brain, and kidneys.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Pointing the finger at something that causes high blood pressure is hard because no one really knows exactly what causes high blood pressure. However, here is a list of some factors that can play a part in the development of high blood pressure:
- Eating too much salt
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Old age
- Family history
- Chronic kidney disease
- Consuming too much alcohol
Here is a list of people who are more likely to develop high blood pressure:
- Pregnant women
- People over 35
- People with a family history of high blood pressure
- People who use birth control pills
- People who aren’t active
- People who are overweight or obese
- People who eat too many fatty foods or foods high in sodium
- People that drink a lot of alcohol
Medications to Treat High Blood Pressure
Medications are often used in the treatment of high blood pressure. It is usually said by physicians that once you are put on medication to treat high blood pressure, you will be on it for life, and in most cases, this is true.
- Diuretics. These work by flushing the body of excess sodium from the body. These include medications like Lasix, Aldactone, Bumex, and Maxzide.
- Beta-blockers. These work by lowering heart rate, blood output, and the heart’s workload, which lowers blood pressure. This class of medications includes Lopressor, Tenormin, Corgard, and Ziac.
- ACE Inhibitors. These work by helping the body to make less angiotensin. Angiotensin is a chemical the body makes that narrows blood vessels. By helping the body make less angiotensin, it allows the blood vessels to relax and open up, which causes a decrease in blood pressure. Medications in this class include Zestril, Accupril, Altace, and Lotensin.
- Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers. These work by blocking the receptor that angiotensin binds to to narrow the blood vessels. This class of medications includes Atacand, Avapro, Diovan, and Cozaar.
- Calcium Channel Blockers. These work by blocking calcium from going into smooth muscle tissue of the blood vessels and heart. When calcium enters the smooth muscle tissue of the blood vessels and heart, it makes contractions stronger and harder, which increases the force of blood flow, which in turn increases blood pressure. By blocking calcium, the contractions aren’t as hard and strong, and muscles in the blood vessels can relax, causing a decrease in blood pressure. This class of medications includes Norvasc, Sular, Plendil, and Vasocor.
- Alpha Blockers. These work by reducing muscle tone of blood vessels. This class of medications includes Cardura, Minipress, and Hytrin.
Treat Your Body Right
Eating right, getting enough physical activity, losing weight if you’re overweight or obese, managing stress, limiting alcohol, and stopping the smoking habit (if one exists) can really help you manage your high blood pressure.
Eat right. Filling your diet with fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, foods rich in fiber, fish (and especially fatty fish for the omega-3 fatty acids), skinless poultry, lean meats, beans, and fat-free and low-fat dairy products and ridding your diet of saturated and trans fats along with all that salt and added sugar can really help your heart.
Also, being a smart consumer helps, too. If you’re trying to avoid something in a food, such as fat or sodium, choose foods with the word “free” on the package. If you want to reduce a certain nutrient, foods with the words “very low” and “low” may be a better choice. Foods with the words “reduced” or “less” just mean that there is 25% less of whatever nutrient that is being reduced in that food than in the regular food. For example, a soup that says “reduced sodium” has 25% less sodium than its regular soup counterpart.
Some people like to follow a strict eating plan. The D.A.S.H. diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has proven to be a very effective diet. This diet is high fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats and low in red meats, sodium, and sweets, added sugars, and sugary drinks.
Lowering the “S” word (sodium) in your diet can really help you manage your high blood pressure. Sodium causes your body to retain fluid, which can raise your blood pressure. Try these tips to cut out the sodium:
- Don’t add salt to your food at the table
- Use a sodium-free seasoning for foods, such as Mrs. Dash
- Avoid canned foods, processed foods, lunch meats, and fast foods
- Choose foods that are sodium or salt “free” or “very low” or “low” sodium
- Aim for foods that have 5% or less of the Daily Value of sodium in them (look on the food label for this information)
Exercise. Exercise does a lot for your high blood pressure. Exercise (and in particular cardio exercises like running, jogging, or walking) can strengthen your heart, help to increase the circulation of blood, and oxygen, throughout the body, and can help reduce the risk of heart failure (not to mention it can help you get sleep, relax, and strengthen the respiratory system, which helps you breathe, and your bones).
You should always always ALWAYS ask you doctor before you start a regular exercise regimen. While exercise may be good for your heart, some people’s hearts may not be able to handle it.
For more information on exercise, you should ask the experts in exercise, exercise physiologists. They went to school and studied exercise and its effects on the body, and know a lot more about this than I do.
Weight loss. If you are already at a healthy weight, this section doesn’t apply. However, if you are overweight or obese, then it does. Achieving a healthy weight can help to lower your medication dosage or even eliminate the need for medication. Most medication dosages are determined based on weight. The more you weigh, the more you may need. You should ask your pharmacist for more information this.
Also, the more you weigh, the more your heart has to work to supply all your body’s tissues and organs with the blood (which has oxygen and nutrients) that they need. When you lose weight, you take a load off of your heart and allow it to do less work to do the same job. So give your heart a break and lose some weight.
Quit Smoking. Smoking causes a lot of problems for the heart. The nicotine in cigarettes can cause decreased oxygen supply to the heart, an increase in blood pressure, an increase in heart rate, an increase in blood clotting, and damage to the cells of the blood vessels. In other words, smoking causes your heart to do more work while hurting it in the process. Smoking isn’t fair to your heart. So to make life fair for a change, quit smoking. It will do you and your heart some good. You can consult a smoking cessation expert or your physician on how to quit smoking.
Stress Management. It’s not known for certain how stress directly affects blood pressure. However, when you stress, you do things like eat more (and comfort foods usually aren’t healthy), drink more alcohol, exercise less, and smoke more. All of these things can have a negative effect on blood pressure. Managing stress can help reduce blood pressure, as well as your risk for heart disease. Just try these tips:
- Eat and drink sensibly
- Be sure to relax every day
- Rest up
- Set goals and expectations that are realistic
- Exercise (believe it or not, exercise can actually be therapeutic)
- Stop smoking
- Take responsibility for what you do
- Learn to assert yourself
- Do things that you like to do
Limit Alcohol. In small amounts, alcohol can have a positive affect on blood pressure by lowering it as much as 2 to 4 mmHg, according to May Clinic. However, drinking too much can reverse these changes. Drinking too much (1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men) can cause an increase in blood pressure. One drink is considered:
- 12 ounces of beer or malted beverage (like Mike’s Hard Lemonade)
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor
If you more than this, than you should cut back. Also, avoid binge drinking (drinking more than 4 drinks in a row). If you’re a heavy drinker, consider limiting alcohol slowly (it takes time to stop a drinking habit).
Look at These Links
- www.heart.org: American Heart Association (this is a one-stop shop for everything on heart conditions, including high blood pressure)
- www.nhlbi.nih.gov: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (this site has a lot of information on anything to do with the heart, lungs, and blood)
- www.webmd.com: WebMD (this site has some helpful information on high blood pressure)
High blood pressure doesn’t have to happen. However, if you have high blood pressure, you can do things to manage it.
Remember, love food, love health, and love both OUT LOUD!