High Blood Pressure

 
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. It is more common in women than in men. Many people do not realize that heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women, and high blood pressure often contributes to this.
 
 
Your blood pressure refers to the amount that your blood presses on the inside of your arteries (vessels that carry blood from your heart to other organs). Two numbers indicate blood pressure. The top number is the pressure in your arteries while your heart is contracting. The bottom number is the pressure when your heart is relaxed.   Both numbers are an important measure of cardiovascular system (heart and arteries) health.
 
Blood pressure is generally considered high when the top number is above 120, or the bottom is above 80. (Usually both numbers go up and down roughly together.) Often, your blood pressure may be temporarily high, because it can fluctuate throughout the day. You have hypertension if your blood pressure is high all of the time.
 
For a given person, the exact cause is often unknown. But high blood pressure is much more common in industrial societies than in pre-industrial societies, indicating that lifestyle (including diet and exercise) is important. In women, the risk of high blood pressure increases after menopause. One reason for this may be that vessels (like other tissues, in your joints) become stiffer when estrogen levels decrease. 
 
If you have high blood pressure, this puts stress on your cardiovascular system, as well as your other major organs. This can increase the likelihood of other conditions, such as blood clots, hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), heart disease, and other heart damage. In severe cases, affected organs such as kidneys can fail.
 
Although feeling anxious or under stress can raise your blood pressure, blood pressure as a continuing condition has no real symptoms. It is of concern because of the long term affects on your health.
 
If you know you have hypertension before you get pregnant, it is especially important to monitor it and manage it during pregnancy. High blood pressure during pregnancy can restrict blood flow to the fetus, which slows its growth. 
 
Gestational hypertension is high blood pressure that starts during the second half of your pregnancy. It can be dangerous if it leads to preeclampsia, which is a serious medical condition that can require a hospital stay until your baby is born, when your blood pressure should drop again.
 
The first step in hypertension treatment is lifestyle changes. 
  • lose weight if you are overweight
  • don't smoke
  • exercise at least 30 minutes per day  
In your diet:
  • reduce salt
  • minimize alcohol
  • increase fiber, especially from fruits and vegetables
  • eat more fish
 
A recent study found a decrease in the risk of hypertension in American women 45 and older with higher low-fat dietary calcium and vitamin D intake. Supplements did not affect risk of hypertension.
 
If lifestyle changes are not working, your doctor may recommend medication. 
 
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