Considered keeping an eye on your blood pressure? It may be a good time to start.
High blood pressure (or hypertension) affects at least one-quarter of adults in Hong Kong and worldwide can be accounted for half of all heart attack and stroke-related deaths. Unfortunately, many people don’t realise they have it as there usually are no warning signs or symptoms. The only way to be sure of knowing there is a problem is to have your blood pressure measured.
Suffering from hypertension without treatment long term can cause many problems for your body and health. It puts extra stress on the heart and blood vessels, affecting oxygen supply around your body. This can lead to diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, blindness and kidney failure. To educate our patients, here’s a mini-guide to keeping your blood pressure at healthy levels.
How is blood pressure measured?
Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood pressing against the walls of the arteries. It’s measured using two readings in millimetres of mercury (written as mmHg). We recommend that all healthy adults have their blood pressure checked every two years at the minimum.
The first reading (systolic) is the pressure of the arteries when the heart is squeezing blood out. The second reading (diastolic) is the pressure of the arteries when the heart is relaxing between each beat. If the readings are 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, this is said to be 120 over 80 and written as 120/80mmHg.
Hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure is consistently high. Generally, these ranges are what you are looking for;
- High blood pressure: anything above 140/90mmHg
- Normal blood pressure: should be below 120/80mmHg (but anything lower than 130/80mmHg is normal too)
- Low blood pressure: anything below 90/60mmHg (which can also be dangerous).
Apart from having your blood pressure measured in a clinic or hospital, your doctor may advise you to measure your blood pressure in other ways, such as Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring. This is a small machine that is on all day around your arm, measuring your blood pressure regularly during the day.
Another option is home blood pressure monitoring, which involves using your own electronic blood pressure machine (usually twice daily).
Causes of high blood pressure
Hypertension is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. You’re more likely to have hypertension when:
- Increasing age
- Family history with hypertension
- High amount of salt in diet
- Smoking regularly
- Drinking large volumes of alcohol
- Lack of exercise
- Being overweight
- State of stress
- Excessive coffee drinking (more than 4 cups a day)
Around 1 in 10 cases of hypertension are caused by an underlying condition or cause, such as kidney disease, diabetes, hormonal conditions, the oral contraceptive pill and certain painkillers (like ibuprofen).
How to treat high blood pressure
Once diagnosed with hypertension, it should be immediately treated to reduce the chances of getting cardiovascular disease in the future.
Lifestyle modifications are somewhat the most effective in treating hypertension. It’s estimated that dietary interventions and exercise can reduce blood pressure by at least 10 mmHg in 25% of people. A healthy lifestyle also protects individuals from developing high blood pressure.
Diet and clean eating
Studies have shown that eating healthier can help keep blood pressure down. Eating a minimum of five portions of fruits and vegetables everyday will provide your body with the vitamins, minerals and fibres to keep your health in good condition and improve your immune system. Some suggestions:
- Portion size can be a handful of grapes, an apple, a glass of pure fruit juice or three heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables.
- Avoid foods that are high in fat and cholesterol, such as cheese, fatty meats, fried foods and full-cream milk.
- You can also include two to three portions of fish per week (salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are good).
- Cut down on salt intake to less than a teaspoon (6 grams) each day. Substitute salt with herbs and spices in cooking or choose foods labelled with ‘no added salt’. It’s imperative you also avoid processed foods as much as possible as these are excessively high in sodium.
No surprise here. Taking regular exercise helps maintain normal blood pressure and control your body weight. Adults should undertake at least 30 minutes of physical activity of moderate intensity at least five days a week. Suitable activities include cycling or walking fast enough to make you feel warm and slightly out of breath.
Moreover, relaxation therapies such as meditation, stress management and yoga can also help to lower blood pressure.
You should also lower your intake — ideally cut it out altogether — of toxins from entering your body such as alcohol or cigarettes. Cigarette smoking damages blood vessels and increases the risk of heart and lung disease, while alcohol can also tighten your blood vessels contributing to higher blood pressure.
Men should limit their drinking to three to four units a day; whereas women should limit drinks to two to three units a day.
When changes in lifestyle are not sufficient to treat hypertension, medications may be required. There are a wide range of medicines that lower blood pressure, and sometimes, more than one type of medication is needed. Most patients who need to take medications will do so for the rest of their lives. You should consult your doctor about your options.
The best way to avoid hypertension complications is to catch it early and carefully monitor it. It’s crucial to have your blood pressure under control as it can cause serious health complications for your future. Changing your lifestyle can also reduce your chances; quit smoking, stop drinking, incorporate more healthy foods in your diet and try becoming more physically active! Your lifestyle decisions can be changed easily from today.
Prevention is better than a cure. If you’re unsure or worried about your blood pressure, you should consult with your practitioner or doctor for the best course of action.