Hypertension is a condition that involves a sustained rise in blood pressure. It is one of the most commonly encountered disease of today due to a variety of factors, including but not limited to stress, faulty diet and lack of exercise. Characterized by an increase in the force through which the heart has to pump blood through the blood vessels in the body, hypertension damages other important organs in the body. High blood pressure may result from an increased resistance of the walls of the vessels or due to narrowing of vessels by deposited plaques of fat. Genetics is a major risk factor for hypertension and is the main reason why hypertension runs in families. However, its incidence is highly dependent on other lifestyle-related risk factors like smoking, alcohol intake, obesity, high cholesterol levels, sedentary lifestyle and existing disease processes such as diabetes.
Blood pressure up to a certain level can be taken care of by means of lifestyle changes, even without starting any drug therapy. However, when the blood pressure rises above the level of 180/110 mm Hg, it’s an emergency and an immediate intervention is a must. This level of very high blood pressure carries with it a high and constant risk of stroke and heart attack. Hypertension may not always manifest through symptoms, but occasionally, people complain of headache, head heaviness, dizziness, restlessness, sweating, palpitations, a general sense of discomfort or sudden bleeding through the nose. In such cases, the following first aid measures can help until the time that professional medical help can be obtained:
- The first and foremost thing to do is to take complete rest. Lie down flat on a bed/floor/desk/etc.
- Any kind of journey except to travel to the nearest doctor/hospital should not be undertaken.
- A nosebleed can be controlled by pinching the bridge of the nose continuously for 5 minutes, releasing for 2 minutes and then repeating it for another 5 minutes. The head must be positioned downwards, rather than the common myth of lifting the chin. Application of ice over the bony part of the nose also helps curtail the bleed. One may stuff a piece of clean cloth like a handkerchief inside the bleeding nostril tightly to stop the bleed. Once this is done, medical help should be sought as early as possible to avoid any recurrence or complications.
- Ask to be seen by a doctor immediately as soon as possible, as the underlying elevation in the blood pressure that lead to the nosebleed still needs to be attended to.
Little changes in everyday life go a long way in preventing and maintaining high blood pressure. We all know ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. But in the health scenario, a more appropriate proverb would be “All work and no play makes Jack an ill boy”. It is extremely important to take time off work or any kind of stressful environment to relax and to keep the body fit. A good amount of rest in the average of at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep helps in lowering blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels.
Some techniques that help one relax are deep breathing, meditation and yoga. The easiest way to relax and bring down one’s blood pressure level is to lie down on the back and take deep breaths for at least 10 minutes a day. Another good way of achieving relaxation is to go for light exercises, jogs or brisk walks. Also, you may choose to play a sport, cycle, or any other sport you like for at least half an hour each day. Exercise is the most underrated anti-hypertensive!
Once your blood pressure has started to rise, it’s a signal that your body cannot take any more abuse. Therefore, prevention of hypertension is a must, as the old adage goes: “Better late than never.” Smoking and excessive alcohol intake has to be stopped immediately. Heart attacks or strokes are not gradual. Alcohol intake should be cut back to not more than 1-2 drinks a week. (30-60g alcohol). A tight control over sugars is a must, especially in diabetic patients to help control blood pressure. A combination of diabetes and hypertension can wreak havoc in the body.
It is futile to have medications to lower blood pressure level with medications if your diet is full of salt and oil. A diet low in sodium, maximum of 5 gm of salt per day is recommended. This means cutting back on foods rich in salt like chips, canned food, pickles, salted cheese, salted butter, and salad dressings. Researchers found out that foods rich in calcium and potassium are very good for lowering blood pressure. Examples of such foods are banana, coconut water, fresh yogurt, low fat milk, beans, and baked potatoes. So, for breakfast, we recommend low fat milk and bananas, add beans to your salads and make baked potatoes and yogurt a regular dinner companion. If this dietary advice seems boring, here is something to smile about: A portion of 30 calories a day of dark chocolate too helps reduce blood pressure! That portion is equivalent to one piece of Hershey’s Kisses.
Hypertension is strongly associated with obesity. Weight reduction of around 0.5 kg to 1.0 kg per week to get to the ideal weight in relation to your height (Body Mass Index or BMI) is also recommended. Regular aerobic exercises fused with a low fat diet help reduce weight as well as blood pressure. Very heavy exercises such as lifting weights in an effort to lose weight quickly should be avoided as this may increase blood pressure level due to the stress they bring to the heart and blood vessels.
Allot some time for a nice walk or jog for your daily routine. Also, to cut down on those burgers and pizzas and hotdogs. In preventing hypertension, give your body the right amount and type of exercise and meal to thrive and heal!