High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the result of increased pressure against your artery walls. Blood pressure can fluctuate during the normal course of a day, such as from stressful situations and increased, or decreased, activity. This is perfectly normal.
However, when blood pressure stays high for extended periods of time, this can be dangerous and is known as hypertension. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the US, approximately two-thirds of people over 65 have high blood pressure.
People in the over 50s age group who do not currently have high blood pressure also face a 90% chance of developing it later in life. Increased blood pressure can be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It can also result in other serious complications, such as increased risk of stroke, kidney disease or failure and loss of sight.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
There are many contributing factors to hypertension. Quite often sufferers will experience several factors that raise their blood pressure. Causes tend to differ for each person, depending on contributing factors such as lifestyle, diet and underlying diseases such as diabetes. However, there are critical reasons for hypertension which need to be addressed, particularly arrhythmia and atherosclerosis.
An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. Any increase in activity can cause a rapid heartbeat, which is normal. But if you experience a rapid heartbeat, even during rest, you should consult your GP.
Common types of arrhythmia include:
- atrial fibrillation, which is when the heart contracts at a very high rate and in an irregular way
- bradycardia, when the heart beats irregularly or more slowly than normal
- Supraventricular Tachycardia, which is a heart rhythm disorder with periods of abnormally fast heart rate
This is a potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged up by fatty substances known as plaques or atheroma. These plaques cause the affected arteries to harden and narrow. This can be dangerous, as restricted blood flow can damage organs and stop them functioning properly.
Changing Your Lifestyle to Reduce High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is not to be feared and reducing high blood pressure can be dealt with just by changing your lifestyle, taking medication, or a combination of the two. Ways to change your lifestyle include changing your diet, such as by eating less fat, reducing cholesterol, cutting your salt intake to a minimum and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. Cutting down your units of alcohol and stopping smoking are also crucial, if you are a regular drinker or if you smoke.
People who lead a sedentary lifestyle – those with no, or irregular, physical activity – also run the risk of high blood pressure. This means regular exercise is essential. But you don’t need to spend numerous hours in the gym. A brisk walk, for instance, ideally twice a day for around 25 minutes or more, will certainly help. Other activities, such as swimming, which improves cardiovascular activity, dancing and even vacuuming, are also good ways to stay active.
Blood Pressure Tests
Your GP or medical practitioner will generally start to test your blood pressure once you have reached 50, but if you have pre-existing medical conditions your blood pressure will normally be taken on a more regular basis than an annual check-up. When you visit your GP, he or she will test two levels of your blood pressure, called systolic and diastolic, often by using an arm band device.
The first measurement is systolic. When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of your body. This force creates pressure on the arteries and is called systolic blood pressure.
A normal systolic blood pressure is 120 or below, while systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 is normal blood pressure that is higher than ideal, or borderline high blood pressure. A systolic blood pressure of 140 or higher, on repeated measurements, is considered to be hypertension, or high blood pressure.
The second measurement is diastolic. A normal diastolic blood pressure number is 80 or below, while between 80 and 89 is normal but higher than ideal. A reading of 90 or higher, on repeated measurements, is considered to be high blood pressure.
If your blood pressure levels are very close to the normal numbers, your GP will probably ask you about your lifestyle, such as diet and recommend any changes you should make. If your levels are registering as high, your GP will probably want to check you again a few days later.
If readings are still high, the doctor is likely to recommend medication to lower your levels. If you are prescribed with medication it is imperative you start taking it straight away and at the times your GP tells you.
It is also important that you check your blood pressure regularly. Many high street chemists now test your blood pressure for you. You can also buy blood pressure monitors to test your levels regularly at home.
Dr Chris is passionate about raising awareness of problems associated with raised blood pressure and advocates that everybody in the 50+ age group should “Know Your Numbers.” You can read more by following this link.
You may also like to visit the website of the British Heart Foundation for more information and advice.
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