What does having high blood pressure mean?
Imagine you are trying to water the garden with a narrow hose and the tap turned full on, the pressure build-up will be so great that the force of the water will blow your plants out of the soil. Similarly, if you have narrowed arteries or increased blood volume, blood pressure increases. Hypertension is persistently raised blood pressure and can exacerbate cardiovascular disease and cause damage to small blood vessels in the kidney and eye, leading to loss of kidney function or vision. It affects mainly the over 50s but can also be a problem in younger people, and one in five New Zealanders will have high blood pressure at some stage.
What causes high blood pressure?
Primary or essential hypertension is by far the most common form of high blood pressure. It seems likely that it’s caused by several factors combining together such as a genetic tendency, increased salt intake and obesity. Other conditions cause secondary hypertension such as kidney disease, diabetes or pregnancy (pre-eclampsia). Often there are no signs or symptoms until you have a serious problem and start getting nosebleeds, headaches, dizzy spells or have a stroke.
Constant high blood pressure can cause damage to your arteries and heart.
What puts you at risk?
Prevention and treatment
You may not know you have high blood pressure and it can creep up silently, so do what you can to keep it down; also get regular checks and never ignore symptoms.
1. Healthy lifestyle
The best way to keep your blood pressure down is to make sensible lifestyle choices and avoid known triggers. Here are some tips that will help:
2. Measuring blood pressure
The only sure way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured and this is how it works. Your heart beats in two stages; first beat when it contracts forcing blood out (systole) and then when it relaxes and refills (diastole). A sphygmomanometer consists of a cuff placed on your arm, inflated to restrict blood flow, with a sensor to pick up blood pressure. When the cuff is released your nurse or doctor listens with a stethoscope to measure the pressure when blood flow starts again (systole) and when your heart relaxes (diastole). These two measurements are expressed as systole over diastole, in millimetres of mercury. High blood pressure is a measurement of greater than 130 over 80.
3. Checking for complications
If you have several blood pressure measurements on different days that are higher than normal, you should be checked for signs of cardiovascular disease:
4. Bringing blood pressure back down
If making the appropriate lifestyle changes does not bring down your blood pressure to within normal levels, there are several types of prescription medicines that will lower blood pressure and keep it down as long as you keep taking it. They work by relaxing the blood vessel walls so reducing the force needed by the heart to pump blood (ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers); reducing the blood volume by removing water (diuretics) or acting directly on the heart by reducing the heartbeat (beta blockers).
5. Natural remedies
Even if you are taking prescribed medicines to lower your blood pressure there are some natural remedies that may help:
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