High blood pressure (hypertension) has been called the “silent epidemic”. That’s because, decades ago, before doctors—and their patients—began paying routine attention to this important health parameter, many people developed and suffered from excessively high blood pressure—without realizing it.
Undiagnosed—and more importantly, untreated—hypertension is dangerous. Living with hypertension is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Conversely, managing hypertension—taking steps to keep pressure under control and within target ranges—goes a long way toward reducing your relative risk of heart disease.
Few Outward Signs
Unfortunately, hypertension’s reputation for being “silent” reflects a relative lack of symptoms associated with this condition. It’s possible to suffer from dangerously high blood pressure with few outward signs of your condition. That’s why it’s extremely important to have your blood pressure measured by your doctor on a fairly routine basis.
If your doctor documents an alarmingly high result, fear not; blood pressure rises and falls naturally throughout the day. Among other things, our emotions, stress level, and certain activities can temporarily boost blood pressure. That’s why doctors are now encouraged to take multiple readings, rather than the traditional single reading, when you show up for an appointment.
Many patients suffer from what’s know as “white-coat hypertension”. This is a common phenomenon in which the mere sight of a doctor’s white coat—or the thought of being examined—can elevate one’s blood pressure. Fighting traffic, running for the elevator, and making your appointment with moments to spare can all result in temporarily high blood pressure. For this reason, don’t be too alarmed if your first reading is high than expected. Chances are, it will go down again once you’ve had a moment to rest and clear your head.
For the record, undiagnosed, relatively severe hypertension may manifest various symptoms, such as nosebleeds, fatigue, blurred vision, confusion, chest pain, or abnormal heartbeat. If you experience any of these warning signs, seek medical attention immediately.
A Time for Change
Of course, if your doctor notifies you that he or she is genuinely concerned about your readings, it may be time to address your hypertension. Depending on just how high your numbers have climbed, you will probably be prescribed various lifestyle changes to help bring your pressure under control. Weight loss is a prime goal. Excess weight almost inevitably correlates with elevated blood pressure. So too to inactivity and smoking.
In the past, blood pressure could only be monitored by a healthcare professional trained to use a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). But these days, many digital, self-measuring devices are available to consumers. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, it may be advisable to invest in one of these simple-to-use devices so you can monitor your pressure throughout the day and evening.
This can give you, and your doctor, a better picture of your readings throughout the day. It’s a good way to assess the effectiveness of any medications of even lifestyle changes. Losing just 5% of your body weight, if you are overweight, for example, can lead to significant reductions in blood pressure.
Drinking fresh beet juice has also been shown to significantly lower blood pressure among people with mild to moderate hypertension. That’s because beets, and a select few other whole foods, are rich in dietary nitrates. These helpful compounds are converted in the body into compounds that directly lower blood pressure by signaling blood vessel muscle cells to relax.