Written by Dr Alison Kamffer
WHAT IS IT?
The blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries, generated by the pumping of the heart. The top reading, called the systolic, is the highest pressure generated by the pump, [felt as your pulse] while the lower reading, called the diastolic, is the pressure when the pump is at rest i.e. in between beats.
The blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood pumped by the heart, and the size and condition of the arteries, but it is affected by many other factors including emotional and physical state, physical activity, diet, temperature, posture, and medication use.
Hypertension means high blood pressure. Hypertension is diagnosed if the systolic reading is over 140mm/Hg or the diastolic over 90mm/Hg, on more than one occasion. The readings are usually repeated because an isolated high reading may be due to anxiety. The exception to this would be if the pressure is already causing symptoms, or is extremely high.
Blood pressure has no symptoms unless it is causing damage, which is why it is known as the ‘silent killer’. Occasionally a patient may experience headache or dizziness, prompting a visit to the doctor, but frequently the first sign is that of a stroke or heart attack. This is why all health professionals encourage patients to have their blood pressure checked regularly, especially those with the risk factors mentioned above. If untreated the extra pressure damages the arteries and eventually causes stroke, heart attack or kidney failure, much as driving with overinflated car tyres causes excessive wear on the tyres. Alternatively an artery may burst, causing a stroke if in the brain or a major emergency if in the main artery, the aorta. Less dramatically the long term wear may lead to dementia, heart failure, and death from vascular disease. The tragedy is that it is almost always preventable. The longer it is untreated, the more damage is done. The effectiveness of finding and treating hypertension is shown by the fact that reduction of blood pressure by 5-6 mm/Hg can decrease the risk of stroke by 40%, and of coronary heart disease by 15-20%.
Unless it was caused by an underlying disease, blood pressure is not cured when treated, but it is controlled. In other words the blood pressure becomes normal while treatment is taken, but is likely to rise again if treatment is stopped. Blood pressure is a chronic [long term] condition and usually needs lifelong treatment, unless the patient has made lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising and stopping both smoking and excessive drinking.
WHO GETS IT?
Hypertension is common among the overweight, being a feature of the metabolic syndrome*. Excess alcohol and cigarette smoking, inactivity and a poor diet, high in salt and refined sugars, all contribute, so it is very much a disease of lifestyle. However it is more common in people of Black ethnic origin, it is seen more in men than women, and when there is a family history of hypertension, so there is a genetic element. It becomes more common with increasing age, but may affect anyone from childhood on.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES?
95% cases do not have an identifiable cause except as above, and it is then called primary, or essential hypertension. When there is an underlying cause such as kidney or heart disease it is called secondary hypertension. This may be due to hormonal imbalance, including thyroid problems, and more rarely, Cushing’s disease or Phaeochromocytoma, both adrenal gland disorders. Coarctation of the aorta is a congenital [from birth] narrowing of the main blood vessel carrying blood from the heart.
Sleep apnoea, commonly associated with obesity, can raise the blood pressure and leads to chronic ill health if not diagnosed and treated.
Some prescription medicines can cause the blood pressure to rise, including Viagra and recreational drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.
In pregnancy hypertension may occur alone, or as a feature of preeclampsia, a potentially serious complication.
How is it Treated?
If there is an underlying cause that, of course, must be treated first, and lifestyle changes such as reducing salt intake, alcohol and cigarettes, and increasing physical activity are essential. Weight loss should be attempted and, most importantly, refined sugars in the diet should be reduced.
Normally a doctor will give a patient a mild dose of a diuretic [water pill] as the initial treatment. Should this prove to be inadequate, there are several different classes of drug used such as ACE inhibitors, Angiotensin II Receptor Antagonists, β blockers, α Blockers, Calcium Channel Blockers, and combinations. Should one medicine prove unsuitable, there are plenty others to choose from!
What can you do for yourself?.
Use a salt substitute that contains potassium instead of sodium. Omega-3 oils as found in salmon oil and flax seed oils are anti-inflammatory and reduce the effects of raised pressure. Celery, garlic and olive are all known to help reduce blood pressure.
Vitamin B supplements, Vitamin C 1-2gm /day , and a good multivitamin containing antioxidant Vitamins A, D, E, and K. [Vitamin E *[ensure the Vitamin E is a mixture of types, not just 1 tocopherol] should be taken at a dose of 400mg, but 300mg if on a blood thinner e.g. Warfarin.]
Several herbs are known to help such as fennel, black cohosh, cayenne, hawthorn, rosemary, chamomile, parsley, reishi mushrooms and turmeric.
Acupuncture can be very effective, but the treatment must be continued long term.
Homeopathy will treat the whole person. Consult a registered practitioner.
Tissue salts, Calcium and magnesium supplements, Co Enzyme Q10, Ginkgo biloba 20-40mg day, and Ginseng all have a role. It would be wise to consult a practitioner experienced in natural medicine rather than taking a cocktail!
As you can see from above, the first step if you are found to have raised blood pressure is to examine your lifestyle and make changes: stop smoking, reduce your salt and alcohol intake, start exercising and lose weight. Eat less sugar and refined [factory produced] foods and more fish, as well as more fibre such as fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses. Reduce your stress by making time for yourself, and learn to say ‘no’ to excessive demands from others. This may all sound overwhelmingly difficult, but a diagnosis of hypertension means that it is time for some honest self examination, and making changes, step by step, can be done!
This article was written by SureSlim’s Dr Ali.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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