The reason hypertension is dangerous is that increased pressure in the circulatory system forces your heart to work harder to keep your blood moving. This extra work can damage the inner lining of your coronary arteries. Over a period of years fatty tissue called atheroma is likely to form where damage has occurred, and your coronary arteries may become narrowed or even close up completely. The result may be a heart attack or possibly congestive heart failure.
Moreover, if you have high blood pressure, your chances of having a stroke are four times greater than they would be if your blood pressure were normal. This is because increased blood pressure can lead to the formation of atheroma in the arteries that supply the brain with blood. Your kidneys may also be damaged, especially if you have malignant hypertension.
Damage to your kidneys also leads to a further rise in blood pressure. The brain, eyes and other organs also can be affected by damage to the blood vessels that supply them with needed oxygen and nutrients.
Hypertension during pregnancy should be treated. If it is allowed to persist, high blood pressure can decrease the efficiency of the placenta, which supplies the fetus, or unborn child, with nourishment.
What should you do?
Have your pressure checked once a year. However, if you are taking oral contraceptives or estrogen pills, or if you are pregnant, you should have your blood pressure checked more frequently. Some large department stores and drug stores now have do-it-yourself machines for testing blood pressure. Also, many health, community, and work organizations sponsor free blood pressure screening programs.
Even if you show signs of high blood pressure at a first examination, your physician may want to test your pressure again before treating you. Because exertion, excitement, or some other physical or psychological factor can result in a misleading reading at a given moment, it is preferable not to make an immediate diagnosis.
In many cases, your physician will suggest changes in your weight, diet and life style. This will help in lowering your blood pressure. Here are some suggestions of what you can do to accomplish this.
1. If you smoke, give it up, or at least cut down as much as possible. Cigarette smoking is not a cause of hypertension, but people who already have hypertension and who also smoke have a greater risk of developing complications (malignant hypertension).
Furthermore, there is a link between smoking and coronary artery disease. Since we know that the chances of heart trouble are increased by both cigarettes and high blood pressure, by giving up smoking you can halve the risk instead of doubling it.
2. If you are overweight, choose a suitable weight loss program, stick to it until you reach a suitable weight for your age, sex and height, and then try to maintain that weight.
3. Give up salt rich foods such as salami and pickles, and salted foods such as potato chips and nuts.
4. Try to make your work schedule and recreation less demanding, and learn to minimize your stress.
5. Drink alcohol in moderation.
6. Try to join an exercise program. Try some relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or biofeedback. Before trying relaxation therapy, you should consult your physician.
If lifestyle changes do not lower your blood pressure to a normal range, you will need some form of drug treatment. The drugs used to treat hypertension must always be administered under the supervision of a physician. Since hypertension is usually without symptoms, you may be tempted to stop taking the drugs because you do not feel ill. Because hypertension cannot be cured, you will probably have to go on taking regular doses of medicine for the rest of your life.
One group of drugs, the diuretics, is often used first in treating hypertension. A diuretic helps reduce your blood pressure by expelling fluid from your body, thus lowering the volume of the blood. Diuretics make you urinate frequently, so it is a good idea to take them in the morning rather than at bedtime.
Several other types of drugs are used to control high blood pressure, including beta blockers, calcium antagonists, and converting enzyme inhibitors. These drugs not only lower blood pressure, but also reduce the strain on the heart and help to prevent irregularities in its rhythm.