Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is pressure that builds inside your blood vessel walls, straining your heart and arteries. Hypertension can be asymptomatic and is often incidentally found during a visit for another complaint.
Sometimes concerns patients present at the clinic - fatigue, shortness of breath upon exertion, chest pain or nosebleeds - can all be tied back to uncontrolled hypertension. Reducing stressors is often not brought up during visits. Identifying stress factors and addressing mental health is very important.
If left untreated, this strain can cause lasting damage which increases your risk of heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and eye and kidney damage.
High blood pressure can also make winter-time tasks more difficult. Shoveling puts extra stress on your heart, and with hypertension, increases your chances of a heart attack. “With hypertension, patients may experience excessive headaches, blurry vision and swollen legs. They may also experience frequent fatigue,” Deepa Joseph, MD, Adult Medicine, said.
More than half of all Americans aged 65 and older have hypertension. Other groups most affected include those with diabetes or kidney disease, women on birth control pills, African Americans and those whose parents also had hypertension.
Diet is a major component of hypertension. Diets high in sodium increases the amount of water the body retains. This then increases blood flow and pressure in the veins.
Sodium is in many foods and drinks including fried foods, bread, cheese, deli meats and canned foods. Restaurant-prepared meals also contain a lot of salt.
The average American eats about 3,400 milligrams a day. Yet, the American Heart Association recommends that you consume only 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. “Many believe it’s just about reducing how much salt they add when cooking,” Dr. Joseph said. “But it’s also being mindful about the processed and frozen foods you eat. They are also made with high amounts of sodium.”
Some simple ways to reduce sodium intake include checking nutrition labels on the foods for sodium amounts. At restaurants, this number may be in the nutrition facts of the menu. Healthier options will include wording like “salt-free” or “low sodium”.
Hypertension is treatable with actions taken to lower blood pressure. This includes staying active with exercise, quitting smoking and taking prescribed medication and learning to track the amount of sodium eaten each day.
“Increasing fruits, veggies, fiber, cutting out fats and red meats - it’s all about consistency,” Dr. Joseph said. “Patients can make small changes one step at a time to be healthier overall. If the changes to their diet or lifestyle happen all at once, it’s easy to get burnt out and quit.”
Outside of a doctor’s office, a blood pressure cuff makes it easier to monitor blood pressure. Many have automated audio instructions for patients to follow.
It’s important to wait at least 30 minutes after any physical activity or drinking coffee before taking a measurement.
Patients at Carle can submit their blood pressure cuff results to their physician in person or on the MyCarle platform. “I provide my patients with a log sheet where they can record their numbers and upload them to MyCarle so I can monitor their blood pressure virtually,” Dr. Joseph said.
Lifestyle changes go a long way and primary care teams want to avoid adding another medication to a patients list if they can do so. Being consistent if taking a blood pressure medication is also important. If you have not been compliant, communication with your primary care team is key in identifying what the next steps are to help you.
“A little bit goes a long way,” Dr. Joseph said. “30 minutes of regular aerobic activity such as walking, jogging, swimming, biking, dancing, or even taking the dog out can make a difference."
For more information on hypertension and managing your symptoms, visit Carle.org. You can also receive tips on managing your blood pressure from Carle team members in these helpful videos.
Categories: Staying Healthy