The Heart of the Matter: Blood Pressure the Highs + Lows
Blood pressure is the force exerted on our blood vessels by the circulating blood flow. When you’re at risk for high blood pressure–or hypertension—your numbers skew higher than 140/90 when you’re at rest. What does that mean? It means you’re at a higher risk for heart and health problems. Hypertension is a leading cause of stroke, and contributes to heart failure, heart attacks, and kidney failure.
While the diagnosis sounds bleak, R. Alberto Rosa, MD, of Cardiovascular Consultants of Southern Delaware, tells us it’s one of the most preventable contributors to heart disease. Similar to diabetes control and not smoking, high blood pressure can often be tackled from basic lifestyle changes.
“If you can modify these four lifestyle issues, it’s been proven to have a direct impact on improving blood pressure.”—Dr. Rosa
The more you weigh, the greater your chances of suffering from hypertension. Also, as you gain or lose weight, work with your doctor to reevaluate your medication plan. As you lose weight, your medications may cause blood pressure to be too low, increasing risk for falls.
For healthy blood pressure, experts recommend no more than 1 teaspoon of salt consumed per day. Less, if possible.
Alcohol Consumption. There's a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. Dr. Rosa recommends no more than two 4 oz. glasses of wine per day for men and no more than one for women, due to the way women’s bodies metabolize and tolerate alcohol.
Sedentary Lifestyle. Spending the day sitting can be detrimental to your health. Adopting an exercise routine you can stick to is crucial.
For those who try to alter their lifestyle and still struggle with hypertension, genetics may be to blame. While there is no specific gene determined to be the cause of high blood pressure, Dr. Rosa explains that people who modify their lifestyle and still deliver high numbers typically have a family history.
Dr. Rosa encourages those with a family history to learn how to check blood pressure on their own in between annual wellness visits. He coaches patients on when and how to take it for accurate readings.
Mid-morning is preferable, after you’ve had 5-10 minutes of rest, and are sitting at the kitchen table with your arm at heart height. This method of self-screening is encouraged because most people aren’t aware they have high blood pressure until they visit their doctor or present with symptoms.“By the time you experience symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue, it may be too late to make a change,” Dr. Rosa says.
Do I Need Surgery?
For those whose symptoms have progressed, an evaluation and eventual consultation with a cardiac surgeon may be necessary.
There are three basic forms of therapy for a patient diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD):
- Lifestyle modification and drug therapy
- Placement of stents by an interventional cardiologist
- For patients who have multiple blockages that are heavily calcified, coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) might be the answer.
In addition to coronary artery disease, patients may suffer from valvular heart disease.
The valves in your heart are like doors in your home that separate rooms. In your heart there are four valves separating the four chambers. If they are not working properly they may need to be repaired or replaced.
Don’t overlook low BP. While high blood pressure is top-of-mind for most of us, low blood pressure (hypotension) is often overlooked. Hypotension is common as people age and has been linked to many causes, including medications, fatigue, and even dehydration. If your blood pressure dips below 90/60, contact your doctor right away.