Have you ever begun to feel faint or dizzy or even fainted for no apparent reason? On the other side of the coin, have you ever experienced headaches, anxiety or heart palpitations? It isn’t much of a stretch to assume that every single person reading this will answer yes to one (or both) of these questions. It is equally likely that blood pressure is playing a significant role in these moments, but very few people ever work this out without the help of their GP. Today, the mystery of blood pressure will be unveiled.
Blood pressure is a measurement of the amount of pressure that is pushing against the walls of your arteries at any given moment. Now, the amount of pressure doesn’t stay consistent. Your heart beats after all. So, your measurement includes the amount of pressure at the height of the heart beat (systolic), as well as the pressure in between pulses (diastolic). A healthy heart rate is a systolic reading of 120 mmHg and a diastolic reading of 80 mmHg. You might have heard people talk about this as “120 over 80”. If you have high blood pressure, this is referred to as hypertension, and if it is low, it is hypotension.
What is high blood pressure? Anything in the vicinity of 130 over 80 would begin to need attention. Essentially, you would be putting undue pressure on your heart and arteries every single heartbeat. There are a number of risk factors:
- Age: Your blood pressure naturally begins to increase with age. Up until your mid 60s, men are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, but at that point it shifts to women.
- Race: For some reason black people tend to suffer from hypertension than people of other ethnicities
- Family history: If you know that you have a history of high blood pressure in your family, you should get checked out sooner rather than later.
- Weight: If you are overweight or obese, this is a risk factor. Your veins are more likely to be lined with atherosclerosis, so the blood is squeezing through a smaller artery.
- A sedentary life: This will contribute to being overweight.
- Smoking: As with every blog ever produced on health, smoking plays a significant role in your overall health. The tobacco immediately raises your blood pressure, and it also hardens the walls of your arteries. This makes them inflexible and liable to break.
- Drinking alcohol: Studies have made a direct link between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure.
- Too much sodium. Salt causes your body to retain fluid which increases your blood pressure.
All of these things are deeply problematic because they lead to heart attacks, aneurysms, heart failure, kidney problems and dementia. Not an enviable list. Here are some ways you can help bring your blood pressure back down to a reasonable level.
- Lose weight and exercise.
- Eat a balanced diet (particularly one that is low in salt and high in fibre)
- Cut the cigarettes and alcohol
- Chill out: Stress is a major contributor to high blood pressure. If you are living a life that is extremely fast paced, it may well be that you need to make some serious changes, otherwise you are working yourself towards an early grave.
- Sleep! If you get less than six hours sleep a night, you are putting yourself at risk of hypertension
- Monitor your heart rate. A blood pressure monitor is no longer something confined to the office of your GP. They are portable, easy to use, and most critically, a blood pressure monitor in the comfort of your own home can give the most accurate reading if a doctor’s office is a place of tension and worry for you.
Alternatively, you might have low blood pressure. If you are returning a reading of 90 over 60, you would need to get some medical advice. There are a number of different risk factors that could contribute to hypotension.
- Pregnancy: this changes the blood pressures to expand rapidly, especially in the opening 22 weeks of pregnancy
- Heart conditions: Heart attacks, heart failure and heart disease can all contribute to low blood pressure.
- Dehydration: When you don’t have enough fluids in your body, the amount of blood in your body drops. This means there is less of it to press against your arteries. This can happen from extreme exercise, or fluid loss during sickness.
- Blood loss: Unsurprisingly if you have had a significant injury, and lose blood, there is less of it to pump through your body.
- Infection: An infection like septicemia can cause a life threatening drop in blood pressure.
- Age: If you are over 65, you might find that you experience low blood pressure more readily after eating or if you’ve stood up for too long. This is why it is critically important to offer your seat to older people.
If you find yourself afflicted by hypotension, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to address this without medicine. As always, a blood pressure monitor kept in your own home will give you the most clear picture as to the success of your efforts.
- More salt. This raises your blood pressure, and that is usually not a good thing. However, if you are already low, it can be a helpful way to redress the balance. However, this should only be done under the advice of a doctor. If you go overboard, you can do some damage.
- Increase fluids. Water increases the amount of blood in your body so there is more fluid to put pressure on the arteries.
- Compression stockings. These are elastic stockings which compress your blood so that it flows more quickly. Consider how much more quickly water will come from a bottle if you apply some gentle squeezing pressure. It is the same logic taking place here.
Of course, there is medication as well, but lifestyle changes can go a long way to help you avoid that more interventionist approach.