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health watch High blood pressure,the silent killer.

Samira accompanied her mother to her family doctor's clinic when her mother went for a regular medical checkup. She asked the family doctor to check her blood pressure too. At 43, Samira was more than a little surprised to find that she had high blood pressure. "I never had any symptoms," she said in disbelief. <p>High blood pressure (or hypertension) has long been called a "silent killer" because it often causes no symptoms. High blood pressure is more common in women than men after they reach middle age. Persistent hypertension is one of the risk factors for stroke, heart attack, heart failure and arterial aneurysm, and is a leading cause of chronic renal failure. Even moderate elevation of arterial blood pressure leads to shortened life expectancy. High blood pressure can drastically shorten the life span of a person unless appropriately treated.

What is blood pressure?

Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in blood vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Each time the heart contracts, it pumps blood into the arteries and at this time the blood pressure is at its highest. This is called systolic pressure. When the heart is at rest, between beats, the blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure.

Blood pressure is always given as two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. Both are important. They are usually written one above the other, such as 120/80. The top number is the systolic and the bottom, the diastolic. If the blood pressure of a person is 120/80, we say that it is "120 over 80" mmHg ('millimeters of mercury'). The diastolic blood pressure is given more importance in deciding whether the blood pressure is under control or not.

Blood pressure changes during the day. It is lowest when you sleep and rises when you get up. It can also rise when you are excited, nervous, or active.

Hypertension occurs when blood is forced through the arteries at an increased pressure. With high blood pressure, the heart works harder, the arteries take a beating, and the chances of a stroke, heart attack, and kidney problems are greater.

Risk for high blood pressure

High blood pressure can have a number of causes and often runs in families. Lifestyle habits can increase one's risk for high blood pressure. People who are old or have a family history of high blood pressure are prone to develop it. Similarly those who are overweight, physically inactive, and diabetic are more at risk.

How high blood pressure affects your body

People with high blood pressure often have no symptoms initially and feel fine. However, much before high blood pressure causes symptoms it can damage vital organs of the body. If it is not treated, high blood pressure can lead to very serious health problems.

Long-term high blood pressure can damage blood vessels. Cholesterol plaque causes the arteries to narrow and harden. This is called atherosclerosis. The combination of atherosclerosis and high blood pressure sets the stage for stroke and heart attack.

As blood pressure rises, the heart has to work harder to deliver oxygen to the tissues. Over time, the heart enlarges and may have trouble doing its work. This can lead to heart failure.

High blood pressure can cause a blood vessel in the brain to burst and lead to stroke. Brain cells in that part of the brain may die. A stroke that continues for a few minutes can cause permanent brain damage or death. Depending on the part of the brain affected, signals from that part of the brain to the body can be disrupted and can affect speech, movement, and other bodily functions.

The blood vessels in the kidneys can be easily damaged by high blood pressure. When the kidneys are not working normally, it can result in kidney failure.

High blood pressure can also narrow the blood vessels in the eyes. This can cause the vision to become worse and may even lead to blindness.

Managing high blood pressure Lifestyle modification

You can lessen your risk of high blood pressure and its long-term effects by adopting a healthy lifestyle. The following methods may help lower your blood pressure:

Weight reduction and regular aerobic exercise (e.g., jogging, brisk walking, swimming, or bicycling) for at least 45 minutes a day are recommended as the first steps in treating mild to moderate hypertension. Even as little as a 3-4 kilo weight loss can make a difference.

Cutting back on salt will help in lowering blood pressure.

A low fat diet will help decrease the chances of atherosclerosis. Additional dietary changes beneficial to reducing blood pressure includes the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is rich in fruits and vegetables and low fat or fat-free dairy foods.

Discontinuing tobacco and alcohol has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Stress management using relaxation techniques and yoga can go a long way in reducing high blood pressure.


Medical management

People who are not able to control their blood pressure by the above means may need medication to lower high blood pressure. Doctors will choose medication in such a way that it will have the best effect on your blood pressure with minimum side-effects.

Remember that high blood pressure medication may have to be taken for life. Do not stop taking your medication-this could make your blood pressure rise to a very high level (rebound hypertension). It is important to continue taking the medication even when you are feeling healthy or even after your blood pressure comes under control.

A 2004 study published in Phytomedicine found that people who drank 2 cups of hibiscus tea daily for 4 weeks lowered their diastolic blood pressure by 12%--results similar to those of a common blood pressure medication.

As you age, blood pressure tends to rise. It is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. If your blood pressure is high, see your doctor to develop a plan of managing it that is right for you. If your doctor prescribes medications, stick with them. Keeping your blood pressure at normal levels can help you avoid other serious health conditions.

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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