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Fighting the 'Silent Killer': How to Prevent and Treat High Blood Pressure
Think about what makes you feel pressure in your life. The responsibilities and commitments you make to yourself and others on a daily basis may contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety in your body, mind and heart.
You can probably identify these pressures, or even pinpoint how they seem to impact your life. But they may be contributing to a health risk — a more serious pressure — and you may have no idea.
What your heart may not be telling you
High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects about one in every three adults in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. The condition has secured a reputation as the “silent killer” — with no signs or symptoms, you can have hypertension for years without even knowing it.
Blood pressure is the force of blood coming from the heart that pushes against the walls of the arteries. If this pressure rises and remains that way, it can damage the body in many ways.
In severe cases, high blood pressure can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other health problems, and is often associated with obesity, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and adrenal tumors.
The condition can be hereditary, but personal lifestyle plays a major role. There are traditional as well as alternative methods that have been used to treat the condition, but they all generally address personal choices of nutrition and lifestyle, as well as physical and psychological wellness.
Check it often
Getting a blood pressure reading is the only way to know if you have hypertension or run the risk of getting it.
|Blood Pressure Ranges |
Normal = 120/80 Lower than 120 (systolic) over lower than 80 (diastolic)
Pre-hypertension = 120-139 / 80-89 120 - 139 (systolic) over 80 - 89 (diastolic)
Stage I Hypertension = 149-159 / 90-99 140-159 (systolic) over 90-99 (diastolic)
Stage 2 Hypertension = 160 / 100 160 or higher (systolic) over 100 or higher
“Check your blood pressure routinely — during doctor visits and on your own,” says Rocky P., a registered nurse at Aurora Denver Cardiology Associates in Colorado. “I encourage people to check their own blood pressure when they are at the grocery store. If you start to notice upward trends, call your doctor.”
Men and women should be equally aware when it comes to attention and regulation of their blood pressure.
“There’s no difference between men and women in how much they should check their blood pressure levels,” Rocky says. “Sometimes women don’t think they need to pay as much attention, but they definitely should.”
Blood pressure is represented by a pair of numbers: the first is the systolic pressure, which is the amount of pressure pushed into vessels from the heart; and the second number is the diastolic pressure, which is recorded when blood pressure is lowest while the heart is at rest between beats. The chart above shows normal and at-risk blood pressure readings.
A path of healing through harmony
Ann Johnson, L.Ac., a licensed acupuncturist and specialist in herbal and auricular therapy, says that although people with severe cases of hypertension should consult a physician as soon as possible, there are ways to treat and prevent high blood pressure with certain holistic and alternative therapies.
“In mild and moderate cases of hypertension, Chinese medicine often provides a great approach because you can individualize treatments,” says Johnson. “We can use herbs and acupuncture treatments that are appropriate for each individual.”
Johnson also says it’s common to work with doctors of Western medicine to fulfill the needs of every patient.
Chinese medicine does not focus on single symptoms or conditions when approaching treatment, explains Johnson, but rather what is contributing to disharmony in an individual. A patient’s diet, lifestyle choices, digestion, sleep patterns and stress levels are all factors taken into consideration.
Hypertension in Chinese medicine is most often defined in two ways: excess or deficiency. The excess types are characterized by having flushed faces and throbbing headaches, as well as exuding anger and frustration. The deficient types are known to experience dizziness, headaches and blurred vision, and show signs of exhaustion and weakness.
If you are feeling any of these symptoms, high blood pressure itself may not be to blame, but it could be hiding beneath the surface. Daily stress, discomfort, anxiety, disharmony and imbalance can go hand in hand with hypertension.
Steps toward prevention and healing
Johnson recommends a few simple actions to help prevent high blood pressure:
1. Move and be active
Your heart is a muscle. Anything to get your body circulating is considered movement. Start with walking and see where it takes you. You can incorporate strength training with body resistance or light weights a few times a week.
2. Watch your weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight is a good step in moderating blood pressure. In overweight individuals, Johnson says even just a 10 percent decrease in overall body weight can help regulate blood pressure.
3. Reduce your intake of toxins
Decreasing sugar, sodium, coffee and alcohol intake can be a start. Be mindful about what you’re eating and take the time to pay attention to what is REALLY in your food and what you will be putting in your body.
4. Manage your stress
Take up a practice that will help you reduce the areas of pressure in your life. A meditation or yoga practice can help with mind-body connection and stress relief, and healthy hobbies like hiking and art can take your mind to a peaceful place.
5. Ask for assistance
Often a health professional or an alternative healer can help you target your goals and stay on track with positive lifestyle choices.
Find your balance
Taking care of your emotional and physical body is the best way to walk a path to prevent high blood pressure. Healthy diet choices, physical fitness, stress management and mindful choices can help you prevent an onset of hypertension. “It’s all about helping to rebalance the disharmony,” says Johnson. “You can work with doctors to help find balance and good programs for wellness, diet, lifestyle and eliminating inflammation in your body.”