If you’re like most people, you make sure the stove is off when you get ready to leave the house. You lock the front door. You wait for the green light to cross the street. You have a password on your cell phone and don’t give out personal information to strangers. But if you’re not aware of your blood pressure numbers, you may be harboring a silent killer.
You may have hypertension, or high blood pressure, meaning the heart needs to exert more effort to pump blood, and not know it because you don’t experience any symptoms. Hence, the word “silent.”
In honor of National Heart Month, we spoke with the cardiologist, George Pizarro, M.D. of Leon Medical Centers to learn about hypertension and how to prevent developing life-threatening diseases as a result of the condition.
“Lifestyle is really the key here,“ stated Dr. Pizarro. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to avoid smoking. That is number one, and number two, if you have medical problems such as diabetes or elevated cholesterol; it really behooves you to be more aware of that and to take better care of yourself. Obviously, you have to address those issues by taking the appropriate medication for diabetes or high cholesterol.”
Dr. Pizarro emphasized that diet is a significant factor. Following a low sodium diet such as the DASH diet, which is extremely low in salt, can be tough to follow, but make it possible to control hypertension without prescription medication. Exercise is essential as well. Dr. Pizarro recommends approximately 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, which can be done if you exercise for 30 minutes daily over five days. He explained that he recommends that approach first when a patient is diagnosed with hypertension, but unfortunately, most patients are not compliant and need to go on medication to control their high blood pressure.
Uncontrolled hypertension can harm your arteries, heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. The condition can also lead to sexual dysfunction, cause chest pain, bone loss, memory loss, and trouble sleeping. Furthermore, high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening emergencies such as stroke, severe damage to the aorta, which is your body’s main artery, heart attack, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs to due impaired pumping of the heart) which causes congestive heart failure, and sudden loss of kidney function, as well as complications in pregnancy.
So how do you know if your blood pressure is normal? By measuring it regularly. Your blood pressure consists of two numbers – a higher number over a lower number (e.g., 110/72). The higher number (called systolic) represents the moment when the heart pumps blood, and the lower number (called diastolic) measures the pressure in between heartbeats.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do – and not do – to keep your blood pressure under control:
- Listen to your doctor and make the proper lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise.
- Take your blood pressure medicine daily.
- Limit how much salt you consume.
- If you smoke, stop.
- Don’t do drugs.
- Contact your doctor before you take decongestants or birth control pills. These medications can cause blood pressure to rise.
- Women should avoid drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day.
- Men should avoid drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day.
- Visit your doctor as directed.
Get help right away if you:
- Have a systolic (top number) blood pressure reading is 180 or higher.
- Develop a severe headache.
- Experience blurred vision changes in your eyesight.
- Feel confused.
- Feel weak, numb, or faint.
- Experience pain in your chest or abdomen.
- Throw up.
- Have trouble breathing.