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Personal Healthcare

Hypertension – what it is and how to manage it

Hypertension (or high blood pressure) has few, if any, signs or symptoms - yet its impact on vital organs can be devastating.

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a very common condition in which arteries are put under persistent strain by the force of blood pumping around the body. This increases the risk of damage to vital organs and can even lead to myocardial infarction, heart failure, kidney failure or loss of sight.

In 95% of cases, there is no obvious organic cause although a number of factors are known to have a detrimental effect on blood pressure. These include excessive alcohol, increasing age, physical inactivity, stress, poor nutrition, obesity and salt intake. High blood pressure is also associated with diabetes, certain diseases and heredity factors.

Medical experts recommend lifestyle changes like improving nutrition, physical activity and the reduction of stress.

The importance of healthy nutrition

To reduce blood pressure doctors recommend a healthy, balanced diet that is low in salt. Excessive salt intake constricts blood vessels which, in turn, increases blood pressure. To reduce this effect, sufferers need to eat a diet rich in potassium - beans, dark leafy greens, potatoes, squash, yogurt, fish, avocados, mushrooms, and bananas for example – as these allow a greater excretion of salt and water by the kidney and therefore reduce arterial pressure.

Dietary changes only bring real health benefits if accompanied by other measures: weight reduction, limited alcohol intake, increased physical activity and a reduction of chronic stress.

Implementing a physical, active lifestyle

elderly man excercising outside

It is very important for hypertensive patients to lead an active lifestyle as physical activity has a positive effect on blood pressure.

Obesity is a major cause of hypertension so exercise is recommended to maintain a proper weight. Cardiovascular health improves with exercise although the emphasis should be placed on ‘regular’ rather than ‘high intensity’ as over excess can cause a blood pressure surcharge. It is better, therefore, to choose activities such as Nordic walking, jogging or cycling to reduce hypertension.

Reducing stress

There are two types of stress – beneficial stress and harmful stress. Beneficial stress (also known as ‘eustress’) alerts us to intense stimuli like noise or conflicts and is a natural bodily response that stimulates daily activities.

Harmful stress (or ‘distress’), if suffered constantly, can have serious health consequences as it increases blood pressure, accelerates respiration, increases cardiac activity and causes tension in muscles.

To help control blood pressure, and prevent hypertension affecting daily life, it is extremely important to take part in preventative de-stressing activities such as mental relaxation.

Measuring and monitoring blood pressure

elderly couple measuring the blood pressure

It is easy to become complacent about measuring blood pressure, as high blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms. However, the only way to know if blood pressure is high is for it to be measured.

Regular testing, by doctors or at home, allows patients and medical professionals to take control of the concern, monitor changes and see the effects of lifestyle changes.

When choosing a device to measure blood pressure at home, the emphasis must be on accuracy. Home equipment should comply with the recommendations of the European Society of Hypertension and match the standards of professional equipment.