The Basics Of Blood Pressure
Checking blood pressure is something I do every day. It seems innocuous but can sometimes result in diagnosing essential hypertension, a condition that has no symptoms.
You know that having high blood pressure is a bad thing; you probably also know that it increases your odds of getting heart disease or a stroke. But high blood pressure is probably the least understood serious medical condition. There are no consistent outward signs. Many people have high blood pressure and most of them feel fine so it’s excellent that your dad has had his checked.
The two numbers record the maximum and minimum pressures during a single beat of your heart. The first figure is when the heart contracts (this is called the systolic pressure) and the second is when the heart relaxes (the diastolic pressure). A blood pressure under 120/70mm Hg is considered optimal. Basically if you have consistent values of 140/90mmHg it means that your heart is working harder to pump blood.
High blood pressure is often inherited and we know it happens when arteries lose their elasticity and narrow so that the blood has to get through a smaller space. We also know that the risk increases with age when our arteries thicken. Lifestyle factors play a major role.
The bad news is that there is a cascading effect because high blood pressure then damages the arteries internal walls, narrowing them more and making them more likely to become clogged with fatty deposits (atheromas) that stop the blood flowing properly.
I always try to avoid overtreatment but high blood pressure is dangerous and shouldn’t be ignored. Your father can do his bit and it might bring those numbers down. Try to avoid the salt cellar – even the fancy pink Himalayan kind makes us retain water. Lose weight. A healthy BMI means your heart won’t have to work as hard.
Increase activity levels by taking up a new hobby and catch up with friends for a Saturday morning golf game instead of drinks. Don’t overdo the booze or coffee and please, please give up smoking. Reducing your stress levels will help too. Try a meditation app and think about buying one of the new wireless blood pressure monitors that connect to your phone. Results are recorded in an app so it is easy to spot trends and patterns.
If your BP remains elevated, then drug treatments are likely to be a lifelong prescription. His GP will decide what will work best but those over 55 tend to do better on calcium channel blockers. Like ACE inhibitors, they relax and widen the arteries, but through a different mechanism. Many patients may require a combination of two or more different BP medications. It can take a number of visits to find the right combination.
It’s important to have at least one 24-hour BP monitor to ensure that he doesn’t have white coat hypertension, a form of high blood pressure that only occurs in a GP’s surgery.