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September 29th is World Heart Day and according to the Centers for Disease Control,  heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Not surprisingly, heart disease causes one in four deaths in America. The World Health Organization defines cardiovascular disease as a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels that includes heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, and cardiomyopathies. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease. 

 Risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking older age, obesity, and physical inactivity. Given that, high blood pressure can be easily diagnosed and treated, let’s look at what high blood pressure is and some recommendations for preventing and or treating this common cause of heart disease. 

High blood pressure also known as hypertension is a common ailment among patients. Normal blood pressure is a systolic blood pressure of 120 or less and a diastolic blood pressure of 80 or less.  Pre-hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure of 121 to 129 mm Hg systolic and a diastolic pressure less than 80 mm Hg. Hypertension itself can further be classified into stages. Stage one hypertension is defined as systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg and diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg. Stage two hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure of at least 140 mm Hg systolic and a diastolic of at least 90 mm Hg.  A target blood pressure of less than 130/80 mm Hg is typically recommended for adults with confirmed hypertension.

Most patients with hypertension have no known cause and they are classified as having primary or essential hypertension. On the other hand, patients may have secondary hypertension, which indicates an underlying cause. The most common cause of secondary hypertension includes kidney disease. 

Hypertension is often known as the silent killer because many individuals will have high blood pressure and not know it because they are asymptomatic or without symptoms. In some cases of high blood pressure, individuals may experience chest pain, headache, or shortness of breath. It should be noted, however, that not all signs of headache, chest pain, or shortness of breath is an indication of hypertension. Complications for untreated high blood pressure can include but are not limited to heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

One simple and easy recommendation for treating high blood pressure would be lifestyle modifications.   Lowering salt intake is a key lifestyle change for managing high blood pressure. Using herbs such as garlic, onions, thyme, and peppers to add flavor to food is a good great alternative to salt and will help to keep blood pressure in the normal range. Also, consider no salt alternatives for seasoning food such as “Mrs. Dash.”  Weight loss and regular exercise is also a good way to help lower blood pressure. Consider walking for at least 30 minutes three to four times a week.  High-stress levels can contribute to elevated blood pressure levels, so avoiding stressful situations is helpful. Meditating is a good way to lower stress and there are several apps such as “Insight Timer” that can be downloaded to help with guided meditations.

Pharmaceutical treatment of hypertension includes oral medications. There are many types of blood pressure medications. One type of blood pressure medication is a diuretic which is a medication used to help the body excrete excess fluid. Beta-blockers are medications that regulate the speed and force with which the heartbeats. Ace inhibitors are medications that work on the kidneys to help regulate blood pressure. A physician may take into consideration several factors when deciding what blood pressure medication is best for a patient. Factors can include but are not limited to a person’s race and whether they have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

It is recommended that patients should have their blood pressure checked regularly. Repeatedly elevated blood pressure readings should prompt patients to have an evaluation with their primary care physician to determine the cause. We all need healthy hearts and hypertension does not have to be a silent killer. With proper care and following the recommendations of your health care provider, individuals with high blood pressure can lead, long healthy lives. 

This article is meant for educational purposes only and is not meant to take the place of medical advice from licensed medical professionals. 

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