High blood pressure or HBP, also called hypertension, is a serious and widespread condition that increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and other serious health problems. Hypertension is a condition in which the blood force pushing against the arterial walls is unusually high. About a third of all adults in the U.S. suffer from HBP; however, it is more common in seniors. In fact, according to a Harvard study, hypertension plays a contributing role in more than 15 percent of deaths in the country. According to the American Hear Association, most people with HBP do not know it.
It is important to know one’s blood pressure number, even when one is feeling fine. People who find that their blood pressure is normal should work with their doctor to keep it that way. On the other hand, those who find that they have an elevated blood pressure should seek treatment to help prevent damage to their body organs. BP is measured as diastolic and systolic pressures. The diastolic force is the measure of the blood force between heartbeats. The systolic force, on the other hand, refers to the blood force when it is beating and pumping blood.
Blood pressure numbers are written with the systolic number before or above the diastolic number, for example, 120/80 mmHg. An adult with normal blood pressure should have a systolic number of less than 120 and a diastolic number of less than 80. However, it is important to understand that blood pressure lowers as one sleeps and rises when one wakes up. It also rises when one is nervous, excited, or active. When the numbers stay above normal for an extended period, then one is at risk of suffering serious health problems such as a heart attack or stroke.
People can have hypertension for months, or even years, without any symptoms. However, even without visible symptoms, damage to the heart and blood vessels continues. Fortunately, it can easily be detected, and once detected, patients can work with a doctor to control it. Today, nearly every visit to a doctor includes a blood pressure reading. Unlike other tests, measuring blood pressure is quick, painless, and easy.
Usually, blood pressure increases with age. According to studies, people with good blood pressure at age 50 still have a 90% chance of developing HBP later in life. Fortunately, seniors can still take an active role in lowering hypertension. In fact, it may be as easy as regulating one’s diet or increasing physical activity. In cases where changes in lifestyle do not significantly control hypertension, prescription drugs have proven quite effective.
Some of the ways to control hypertension without medication include:
• Lose weight if obese or overweight and maintain a healthy weight
• Cut down on sodium and salt in the diet
• Have healthy eating habits
• Be physically active
• Quit smoking
• Limit alcohol intake
• Learn to handle stressful situations
• Cut back on caffeine
• Monitor blood pressure and visit the doctor regularly
• Get support from friends and family
People who combine all these healthy lifestyle habits can enjoy great results. Although some seniors can control hypertension with lifestyle changes alone, others may need prescription medication as part of their treatment plan. Prescription drugs work in different ways to control or lower blood pressure. Some work by slowing the heart beat, or widening and relaxing blood vessels. Others lower blood pressure by getting rid of extra salt and fluid from the body.
In the battle against HBP, the best strategy is to understand one’s own risks, which might include obesity, lack of physical activity, or genetic history, and act accordingly.