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Know Your Numbers: BLOOD PRESSURE

High blood pressure is known as a silent killer because there are often no symptoms until something dramatic occurs such as heart attack, stroke or even death.

Blood pressure is expressed as a fraction with the upper number in the fraction being your systolic blood pressure and the lower number being your diastolic blood pressure.

The systolic blood pressure is the pressure your heart exerts when it contracts to force blood through the arteries. The diastolic blood pressure is the pressure that remains pulsing though the veins when the heart is at rest in between contractions.

A typical healthy person will have a systolic blood pressure between 90-120 mmhg and diastolic blood pressure between 60-80 mm HG. Taken together, the American Heart Association guidelines recommend a goal of 120 over 80 for the majority of people.

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure occurs at 140/90. Hypertension typically develops over the course of several years. Usually, you don’t notice any symptoms, but even without symptoms, high blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessels and organs, especially the brain, heart, eyes, and kidneys.

Several things can increase your blood pressure:

  1. Weight: The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the amount of blood flowing through your vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls.

  2. Stress: Stress releases hormones that constrict blood vessels resulting in the increased pressure.

  3. Not being physically active: People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries. Lack of physical activity also increases the risk of being overweight.

  4. Using tobacco: Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls. This can cause your arteries to narrow and increasing blood pressure.

  5. Too much salt in your diet: Too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid. This isn’t a big deal if you have a healthy blood pressure level but if you don’t this can be life threatening.

  6. Too little potassium in your diet: Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. A proper balance of potassium is critical for good heart health. If you don't get enough potassium in your diet, or you lose too much potassium due to dehydration or other health conditions, sodium can build up in your blood.

Think about your blood vessels like pipes: The walls of the pipes are elastic and designed to stretch, but when your blood pressure regularly rises over 140/90 it causes small tears in the lining of the pipes. Your body sends special cells to heal these tears, but fat cells such as cholesterol also like to latch on creating a plaque that thickens. This stiffening and thickening of the walls is called atherosclerosis. If this plaque ruptures a blood clot is formed in the already narrowed pipe causing a partial or total blockage. A partial blockage will increase the pressure to move fluids through the pipes and make your hear pump harder. A total blockage blocks the flow of the blood containing oxygen and nutrients leading to heart attack or stroke. It is important to pay close attention to your blood pressure numbers and start making changes early to make sure they stay in a healthy range. We know that if you achieve better blood pressure control, your cardiovascular health will improve and you’ll decrease your risk of stroke and heart attack. In my next video we will talk about nutrition and lifestyle choices you can make to better manage your blood pressure.

Until then, I wish you health and happiness.

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