High blood pressure is a complaint suffered by many New Zealanders. Learn what it is and what you can do about it with this quick guide.

Defining High Blood Pressure

A person is considered to have high blood pressure when the blood in their arteries is under higher pressure than normal. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.

Blood pressure readings are composed of two measurements:

  • Systolic pressure – the peak pressure achieved when the heart contracts i.e. when it’s pumping out blood.
  • Diastolic pressure – the pressure level when the heart is drawing in blood.

“Normal” blood pressure is 120/80 (120systolic/80diastolic) and high blood pressure is 140/90. Between these two readings is the “pre-hypertension” band and if you fall within it you need to take steps to stop your blood pressure rising any more and becoming “high”.

Why is High Blood Pressure Bad?

Pre-hypertension and high blood pressure both put greater strain on your blood vessels. This causes vascular damage that can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

People suffering high blood pressure often do not show any specific symptoms. To guard against undetected  blood pressure problems, blood pressure should be checked by a doctor every two years after age 18.

What Can You Do?

Though some cases of hypertension will require treatment with antihypertensive drugs there are a number of lifestyle changes that can have a significant beneficial effect on blood pressure.

  • Stop smoking – nicotine increases heart rate and constricts your blood vessels, both of which temporarily raise blood pressure.
  • Salt – also known as sodium, salt can increase blood pressure in some (but not all) people. Check with your doctor to see if you should reduce your salt intake.
  • Stress – living life under stressful conditions can contribute to hypertension. Relaxation techniques performed daily are an effective antidote.
  • Alcohol – unfortunately not classed as a relaxation technique, alcohol can cause significant increases in blood pressure in some people. The best approach if you are worried about your blood pressure is to avoid alcohol entirely. If you can’t do that, than at least reduce your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
  • Lose weight – if you’re carrying excess weight, losing it will help reduce your blood pressure.
  • Exercise – exercise is an effective relaxation technique, but also of itself appears to contribute to reductions in blood pressure.
  • A healthy diet – a low fat diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables will help your blood pressure level, as will limiting your caffeine intake.

Antihypertensive Medication

If lifestyle changes alone don’t reduce your blood pressure to an acceptable level, your doctor may advise treatment with one of a range of antihypertensive drugs. These drugs work in different ways but they are all aimed at reducing the pressure in your arteries.

Antihypertensive drugs include:

  • Diuretics
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Beta blockers
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Alpha blockers

Regular Checks

The best defence against the problems associated with high blood pressure is early detection. So don’t forget – get your blood pressure checked at least every two years. And if you do find it’s creeping up, consider making some of the lifestyle changes listed above.

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