Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure—the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the blood vessels. This depends on work done by the heart and resistance of the blood vessels. High blood pressure can have severe complications, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and death.
According to guidelines issued by the American Heart Association (AHA), hypertension is defined as blood pressure higher than 130 over 80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Around 85 million people in the United States have high blood pressure.
Some of the risk factors for high blood pressure cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But some things are under our jurisdiction: you can help prevent high blood pressure by making healthy choices and managing any preexisting health conditions you may have. Here are the things you can change:
A diet too high in sodium and too low in potassium puts you at risk for high blood pressure. Eating too much sodium—an element of salt—increases blood pressure. An excess of sodium causes your body to retain fluid and also constricts the arteries in your body. Both factors can increase blood pressure. Not eating enough potassium has a similar effect because potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in the cells. Potassium relaxes muscle cells in your arteries, which lowers blood pressure.
Exercise increases blood flow through all arteries of the body, which leads to the release of natural hormones and cytokines that relax blood vessels, which in turn lower blood pressure. Lack of exercise also increases the risk of being overweight, which can increase blood pressure.
Carrying too much weight strains your heart and circulatory system, and can cause serious health problems. In addition to high blood pressure, obesity is also linked to heart disease and diabetes.
Too much alcohol
Alcohol can cause hypertension, likely by activating your adrenergic nervous system. This causes constriction of blood vessels and simultaneously increases blood flow and heart rate. It’s recommended that women should have only one drink a day.
Using tobacco can cause your blood pressure to temporarily increase and can contribute to damaged arteries. Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry. Secondhand smoke can have a similar effect.
High levels of stress can lead to increases in blood pressure. In fact, relaxation and meditation techniques effectively lower blood pressure.
Underlying conditions and medication
Around 1 in every 20 cases of hypertension is the result of an underlying condition or medication. Conditions include chronic kidney disease and infections, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, sleep apnea, hormone problems, lupus and scleroderma. Medicines and drugs that can increase your blood pressure include birth control, steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, cough and cold remedies, herbal remedies, recreational drugs (i.e. cocaine and amphetamines) and some antidepressants.
High blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States. You can take steps each and every day to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.