MANILA, Philippines — As your heart pumps blood through your arteries, the force of the blood flow exerts pressure on the arterial walls, just as air pumped into a tire exerts pressure on its lining and surface. And just as too much air pressure is bad for the life of the tire, so too much blood pressure eventually damages your arteries.
If your heart pumps blood through your circulatory system most of the day with a force that is much greater than necessary to maintain a steady flow, you have hypertension, or high blood pressure that never returns to normal range.
Two types of pressure, systolic and diastolic, are measured. Systolic pressure is the peak pressure at the moment when your heart contracts and pumps out the blood into the arteries. Diastolic pressure is the lowest pressure in the arteries just before the next contraction of the heart.
Therefore, the systolic figure, which represents the moment of greatest pressure, is always higher than the diastolic figure. If someone tells you that your blood pressure is 120 over 80, this means that your systolic is 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and your diastolic is 80 mmHg. Those figures are within normal range for a healthy young adult.
But for instance, if you are over 40 and your blood pressure reading is 140 over 90 mmHg, your physician may consider this to be normal pressure for you, since blood pressure tends to rise slightly with age.
There are actually two types of high blood pressure, essential or primary and secondary or non-essential hypertension. Primary hypertension is high blood pressure that is not due to another underlying disease. The precise cause is unknown, but a number of definite risk factors have been identified and these include heredity, cigarette smoking, stress, obesity, excessive use of stimulants such as coffee or tea, drug abuse, high sodium (salt) intake, and use of oral contraceptives.
In secondary hypertension, the cause of the disorder has been identified by your physician. Some possible causes are kidney disease, hormonal disorders, and aldosteronism. A person may also have secondary hypertension because the blood vessels are chemically constricted or have lost elasticity from a build-up of fatty plaque on the inside walls of the blood vessels, a condition known as atherosclerosis.
What are the symptoms?
High blood pressure is almost always a symptom-less disease. If you have hypertension, you may feel fine, without the slightest indication of physical problems.
Such symptoms as severe headache, nape pain, blurring of vision, palpitations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, and a feeling of ill health usually occur only when some damage has already taken place from the hypertension in your retinas, brain, heart, or kidneys. So it is risky to wait for treatment until symptoms develop.
What should be done?
While medical advances have helped, much of the credit goes to lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and changing diet to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
For normal individuals, have your blood pressure checked once a year and remember what your blood pressure is. Even if you show signs of high blood pressure during a first examination, your physician may want to check your pressure a couple of times before treating you.
What is the treatment?
Self-help: In many cases, changes in your weight, diet, and lifestyle can lead to satisfactory lowering of the blood pressure without the use of drugs. Here are some suggestions of how to change your lifestyle.
* If you smoke, quit! There’s a direct correlation between cigarettes and high blood pressure; by giving up smoking you can reduce the risk instead of increasing it.
* If you are overweight, choose a sensible weight loss diet, stick to it until you reach an appropriate weight for your age, sex, and height, and then try to maintain it.
* Do not add salt to your food.
* Try to make your work schedule and recreation less demanding.
* Avoid stress.
* Try to avoid using alcohol. Alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure and can interact with blood pressure medications.
* Very mild hypertension can often be treated without drugs.
If self-help does not lower your blood pressure to a normal range, you need drug treatment. The drugs used to treat high blood pressure must always be administered under the supervision of a physician. Your physician will base the decision in choosing the best medications on a number of considerations, such as your age, general state of health, and sex.
When the decision on which medications to try has been made, it is important that you and your physician agree to the treatments and that you follow his or her instructions carefully and completely.
Always remember, your own heart’s health depends on you – the choices you make, the habits you create, and the lifestyle you adopt.
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