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Under Pressure

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Blood pressure is one of those things that doesn’t matter, right up until the moment that it does. Perhaps it is because we can’t detect it in the same way we can see excess weight, blemishes on the skin, or the way we can smell halitosis. If blood pressure had physical symptoms, I am positive we would all be scrambling to look after this area of our health. Alas, it doesn’t and it remains the ‘silent killer’. In Australia, 1 in 4 males over the age of 18 had uncontrolled high blood pressure, and it contributes to a whole host of health issues. In women, the figure is closer to 1 in 5, but the health outcomes are no less significant. Around 6% of all health issues find their root in blood pressure, so it is well worth having your finger on the pulse here.

So you can be in the know, here are some things that can come about because of issues relating to your blood pressure.

  • Heart attack

Imagine your heart pumping blood so hard that your arteries start to harden and thicken. The tube of the artery becomes narrower and the blood is more likely to clot. Your chances of experiencing a cardiac episode have dramatically increased.

  • Stroke

This is similar to the process which makes a heart attack more likely. A stroke is when the clot happens in your brain which prevents your brain from getting oxygenated blood. This can impair your cognitive function, and possibly your motor skills. It is certainly something you should try to avoid wherever possible.

  • Heart failure

The heart inevitably has to work harder to force more blood though tighter arteries. The wall of the heart’s pumping chambers starts to thicken which can lead to the heart simply giving up.

  • Kidney issues

High blood pressure can cause weakened and narrowed blood vessels in your kidney. Without the rich healthy blood it is used to receiving, the kidneys cannot function properly. Your body can then fill with waste and excess water (in a process known as uremia). You might observe swelling in the hands or feet, blood in your urine, and you will generally feel tired because your body doesn’t have healthy blood to power itself. Often this can result in you needing a kidney replacement. Not fun.

  • Vision loss

Similarly, weakened blood vessels arrive in your eyes and begin causing damage there as well. Much like their friends the kidneys, the eyes require healthy clean blood to function properly. Torn blood vessels can result in the loss of vision.

  • Weight gain

Issues with blood pressure can manifest in gaining weight. It triggers a disorder known as metabolic syndrome which regulates how your body processes food and distributes it into energy. With this malfunctioning, you are at much greater risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

  • Memory issues

Strange as it might sound, high blood pressure can affect your cognitive functions as well: thinking, learning, recollecting. Testing has revealed that those who report memory issues or difficulty in understanding complex concepts often have issues with high blood pressure.

  • Dementia

When the arteries narrow, it can leave the brain suffocated of oxygen rich blood, and even if it never eventuated into a full blown stroke, this prolonged suffocation can cause a specific kind of dementia. It is always tragic to watch the mental decline of someone in the early stages of dementia, and their attempts to stave it off are often too late by the time the symptoms have emerged. Getting on the front foot is always the better option.

I realise that this all sounds fairly dire. And trust me, I am not trying to be unnecessarily bleak here. It is just that it matters. But it is not all bad news. Thanks to advancements in modern medicine, you don’t need to wait until you step into the doctor’s office to monitor this aspect of your health. It has become possible to get a blood pressure monitor in your house. It can be a bit daunting the first time, but it really needn’t be. We are looking to measure your blood pressure, not send it through the roof with stress.

  1. Find a sturdy desk and a chair which offers you good back support. Make sure your feet are flat against the floor and rest your arm on the desk palm up.
  2. Still and chill out for three to five minutes. It is important that you let your body settle back into a state of equilibrium. If you’re puffed from exercise or in a state of stress, you won’t get the most accurate reading possible.
  3. Place the cuff around your arm (you should be wearing a t-shirt so that the cuff makes contact with your bare skin rather than a sleeve of clothing). It should be tight enough that you can only get two fingertips under the upper edge of the cuff
  4. Take another few deep slow breaths
  5. Press start and remain still as the cuff inflates around your upper arm. After a while, it will begin to deflate. 
  6. Record the reading from the digital display on the blood pressure monitor

If it doesn’t work, don’t panic – you probably aren’t dead. You can wait a few minutes and try it again, repositioning the cuff to ensure it has a good read. Ideally, you should return a reading of about 120/80. If it is any higher than this, you should consider seeking medical help. If the reading is accompanied with chest pain, numbness, shortness of breath, you should call 000 immediately. 

We have a number of blood pressure monitors here at Aussie Pharmacy, and although you might think of this as a ‘luxury item’, keeping tabs on your blood pressure has a significant influence on your health as you age. I personally keep an eye on it rather than risk heart attack, stroke, or dementia. If you have any questions, feel free to use our ‘Ask A Pharmacist’ function. 

Yours in health,

Floyd – Senior Pharmacist