One of the biggest frustrations for me as a health clinician in the hospital are blanket statements that people seem to repeat, almost as mantras, to lessen their worry or anxiety about an issue. Or, maybe they really do believe them because the health advice that the general public receives seems very wishy-washy at times. It is hard to know what to believe and what is truthful.
“I have high blood pressure, ehh, it won’t kill me”
I was spending time with some friends when an acquaintance said this aloud in the conversation. I bit my tong. I’m not going to be a Debbie Downer while everyone is having a fun night. I actually didn’t think about it much after the initial incident, but, sometimes these things just pop back into my head like a bad memory.
Blood pressure became a hot topic again this last year because high blood pressure guidelines were changed. Almost exactly a year ago the powers that be released new ranges changing “hypertension” from 140/90 to 130/>80 and “prehypertension” or elevated blood pressure to 120-129/80-89. What gives? Why is this an issue? Will high blood pressure kill me?
It is important to understand that guidelines that come out for the general public always have an underlying theme of heart heath since it is the leading cause of death in the United States. Fun fact, every 42 seconds someone reports another heart attack. Super uplifting, I know. However, I will say working with these patients on a daily basis, this disease has no discrimination for age, weight, gender, ethnicity etc… you’d be surprised.
Back to the guidelines! Why do we even care? As a result of heart disease occurring in all sorts of people aside from overweight and elderly, it’s important to keep our risk factors low or non-existent. There is a lot of talk about blood pressure not directly causing heart disease. Or talk about high salt intake not contributing to heart disease. (Salt and Blood pressure are usually talked about together). High blood pressure can be the catalyst of development of vascular issues.
I need you picture a river. This river is nice and calm and flowing. Have you ever seen a river after it rains? Water is rushing faster, with more rocks and debris picked up and flowing along, pressure of that water is high. Water rushing at high speeds with a lot of debris erodes the walls of the river beds. Earth science plug—this reshapes rivers over time from straighter river beds to more “torturous” or curvy water beds.
Now I need you to understand your arteries are like that river bed. Doctors actually use that same word, “torturous”, to describe arteries. With higher pressures slamming into artery walls it is flows, there is increase likelihood for “erosion”. We’re going to call that artery wall damage. Artery wall damage sparks the inflammation and damage response by your body to fix that area. THAT is where our problems lie. And high blood pressure sets us up for failure.
I spoke of heart health though this process happens all over our body. Depending on the location we name it something different. When this inflammation process goes array in our brains, we call it a stroke. When our vascular system is subjected to this in our legs, we call it peripheral artery disease. If our heart arteries have issues, we have a heart attack. Our blood pressure contributes to its development (as well as the development of other disease). Other issues that arise directly from high blood pressure are aneurysms, decrease in heart function, and increase in heart ventricle size, and sudden death.
Allowing our risk factors to get out of control is like feeding the bear. Will high blood pressure kill you? It will certainly contribute to the development of the diseases that will.
What can you do if you have high blood pressure or borderline high blood pressure?
You guessed it, exercise is one of the biggest things you can do. On a regular basis, exercise can lower your blood pressure both acutely, post exercise session as well as chronically overall with continuous exercise.
In regards to nutrition, limiting added sodium in your foods can lower systolic blood pressure 2-8 mmHg. Most Americans have close to 3.5 grams of sodium in their diets, about 10% of which comes from table salt or adding salt to your meals once they’re cooked. That is just how much sodium is in our foods to preserve them. If you have a blood pressure issues, reading labels and checking sodium content of your foods can be beneficial for you. A recommended low sodium diet is the “2 gram” or 2000 mg diet with additional beenfits being seen with less than 1500mg. Reducing alcohol intake to less than 4 drinks a day or per time you consume alcohol can help lower your blood pressure 2-4 points.
Stress is another huge factor people continuously forget about. Lowering your stress levels with practices like mindfulness, meditation, and concentration, can reduce your blood pressure approximately 5 points.
Other lifestyle habits include your circadian rhythm. Proper sleep and good quality of sleep is beneficial for blood pressure. Watching the amount of coffee you intake. An excess amount of caffeine can increase blood pressure. Quitting smoking, all smoking including vaping, can reduce blood pressure as well as reduce the risk for damage to artery walls.
By Anna Blessing, MS, CCRP