Hypertension is a common chronic medical problem that affects about half of American adults, yet only about a quarter of those men and women have their high blood pressure under control. That’s serious, because hypertension substantially increases your risks of heart disease, heart attack, kidney failure, stroke, and even some types of dementia.
There are plenty of things you can do to manage hypertension, including seeing your doctor for routine checkups. At Houston Kidney Specialists Center — with four locations in Houston and Cypress, Texas — our team uses a patient-centered approach to help men and women manage their high blood pressure. If you have hypertension, here's what you need to know.
Blood pressure basics
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure or force exerted on the walls of your blood vessels by your blood as it circulates. Your heart’s pumping action certainly contributes to blood pressure — but there are other factors that influence blood pressure, too, including the blood vessels themselves.
Blood vessels that are inflexible, clogged with sticky cholesterol plaques, or damaged in other ways can interfere with blood flow, making it harder for your blood to move through your body. These issues can increase your blood pressure as your body tries to maintain a normal level of circulation.
Understanding blood pressure readings
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and each measurement gives two numbers in a specific order. Systolic pressure (the first number) measures blood pressure when your heart beats, while diastolic pressure (the second number) measures blood pressure between heartbeats.
For most people, “normal” blood pressure is below 120mmHg/80mmHg, but those numbers can vary based on your age, your fitness level, and other factors. If your numbers are higher, you may have hypertension.
Six ways to manage hypertension
There are medications that can help lower blood pressure, but for many people, hypertension treatment means incorporating other changes, too.
1. Treat underlying medical issues
Hypertension is more common among people with medical issues, such as diabetes, thyroid problems, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, and high cholesterol. Managing those underlying issues can play an important role in managing high blood pressure.
You should also ask your provider to review any current medications — prescription and over-the-counter — since some drugs can cause blood pressure to rise.
2. Lose extra pounds
Being overweight or obese substanitally increases your risk of developing hypertension, along with heart disease and other serious medical issues. The American Heart Association says even a modest weight loss — as little as 5-10 pounds — could have a positive impact on your blood pressure.
3. Eat a healthy diet
You are what you eat — especially when it comes to your blood pressure. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) encourages people with hypertension to focus on foods high in fiber and important nutrients, such as magnesium and potassium. That includes foods like:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy
Potassium has been shown to help lower blood pressure naturally by relaxing the walls of the blood vessels.
4. Quit smoking
Smoking leads to atherosclerosis, a chronic condition that happens when sticky plaque builds up along the inner walls of your arteries. Atherosclerosis makes arteries narrower and stiffer, inhibiting blood flow and increasing blood pressure.
Smoking also increases inflammatory responses that could lead to hypertension. In addition to these long-term effects, smoking causes an immediate temporary increase in blood pressure every time you inhale the smoke.
5. Be more physically active
Regular exercise strengthens your heart, which means it’s able to pump more blood with less force. In turn, that means less pressure on your blood vessels. The American Heart Association recommends at least a half hour of moderate activity — such as brisk walking — five days a week to help maintain a healthy blood pressure.
6. Reduce stress
Stress releases hormones that cause your blood vessels to “tighten up” or constrict, resulting in higher blood pressure. Different people relieve stress in different ways. For you, stress reduction might mean taking up meditation or yoga, practicing breathing exercises, or simply carving out some “me time” in your regular daily schedule.
Keep your blood pressure under control
If you have hypertension, doing all you can to manage it is critically important for preventing other serious medical problems, such as heart attack and stroke. To learn more about managing hypertension, call 281-429-8780 or book an appointment online with Houston Kidney Specialists Center today.