Blood Pressure: Too High and You Die
Blood pressure is simply defined as the amount of force blood exerts on the inside walls of blood vessels as it flows through them. Some pressure is needed in order for blood to flow. It is the same concept as water pressure in the pipes of your house. If the pressure is too low the water would not flow. However, if the pressure is too high then the pipes would eventually break. That's what can also happen in the human body.
Most people have heard the term blood pressure, but they don't really know what it means until their doctor tells them it's too high and they must take action to lower it. You see, high blood pressure (HBP), also called hypertension, is a leading risk factor of heart disease and stroke.
Damage from HBP occurs because over time the walls of the arteries can't cope with the extra pressure. They will either simply burst open leading to an aneurism or develop little cracks in the inside walls. From these cracks plaque can begin to collect, progressing until the artery becomes totally blocked, or blocked enough to seriously restrict blood flow, much like dirt can collect in your house drains. If blood flow is restricted to the brain it will cause a stroke. If the blood flow is restricted to the heart, it will cause a heart attack.
Despite misconceptions, there are no obvious warning signs for HBP. That is why it is often referred to as the silent killer. Head aches, dizzyness, red face, arteries sticking out on the forehead, are all unrelated to HBP. It can only be detected by a physician or nurse doing a proper blood pressure (BP) check using a stethoscope and an arm cuff (sphygmomanometer).
During a BP check there are two numbers that are measured, the systolic and diastolic. The systolic is the measurement of the pressure in the arteries at the moment the heart is contracting, where pressure is greater, therefore the number will be higher. The diastolic is the measurement when the heart is relaxed. Obviously it will be lower than the systolic.
Although everyone is a little bit different a healthy measurement is around 120 over 80. Anything above 140 over 90 may be considered high. Anything lower than 100 over 70 may be considered low. Too low of a blood pressure will not cause cardiovascular disease, but it can lead to dizzy spells and fainting, because the blood has trouble circulating to the brain from the low pressure.
When concerned with high blood pressure, typically, the second number is more important because it represents the pressure that is constantly being applied to the blood vessel walls.
Keep in mind that blood pressure will change depending on your activity and is affected by exercise, fatigue, stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, etc. However, in a healthy individual the blood vessels will adjust and pressure should remain fairly constant.
Most of the time HBP is caused by high salt intake, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, excess alcohol intake, and stress. Many times it is related to heredity factors which are non-modifiable. Lowering HBP involves examining the potential risk factors and taking the appropriate steps recommended by your physician. Sometimes medication is needed to control blood pressure. Although medication should be a last resort, most people have trouble changing their lifestyle, or it is caused by hereditary factors, so it becomes their only hope of controlling HBP.
Be advised though that medication can sometimes back fire. It is common for people to think that since their blood pressure is now under control with medication, they can eat whatever you want, smoke, etc. The medication controls it, but it does not cure the underlying causes of HBP. Heart disease will still progress if you don't improve your health.
A common mistake that people make is they ignore their blood pressure when they are young, then desperately and sometimes hopelessly try to bring it down once they get older and they are told it is too high. Most of us would benefit greatly by practicing healthy habits from a young age, instead of trying to fix something that is already broken. The earlier we set good habits the easier it is to maintain them.
Everyone should have a blood pressure check with their yearly physical. Even more often if there are heart disease risk factors involved or high blood pressure runs in their family.