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Treating High Blood Pressure

According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 103 million adults in the United States has high blood pressure.

Often referred to as hypertension, high blood pressure occurs when the force of blood pushing against your artery walls is higher than normal. It can lead to a variety of health problems including heart disease.

“Cardiovascular disease and stroke are the major events that happen with high blood pressure that is not controlled,” said Dr. Warren B. Matthews, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Abington - Jefferson Health.

With high blood pressure, the excess pressure on the artery walls can damage blood vessels, as well as your organs. The higher your blood pressure and the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the damage it causes.

“It causes problems with circulation to the brain, to the kidneys and to the heart muscle as well. (High blood pressure) causes damage to the walls of the arteries, to the vessels, it put patients at higher risk of stroke and aneurysm,” Dr. Matthews said.

A Silent Killer

As if the health conditions hypertension can cause aren’t scary enough, it becomes even more alarming that there often aren’t warning signs or symptoms.

“It really is a silent killer. You cannot tell if your blood pressure is high and many people have undetected high blood pressure,” he said.

Because of that, it’s crucial to schedule routine visits to your doctor, where your blood pressure can be checked. When you do have your blood pressure checked, Dr. Matthews recommends that you have it checked in both arms.

“The artery that we're measuring isn’t the same in both arms and you can get some difference in the reading from one to the other. It is wise to do that in both arms, not necessarily at every visit, but you want to make sure the pulse is brisk and strong in both arms equally,” he said.

If your doctor does detect that you have high blood pressure, there might not be one exact cause to pinpoint it on. That’s because the exact cause of high blood pressure isn’t known. But there are several factors that play a significant role in the development of hypertension, including:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Consuming too much salt
  • Lacking physical activity
  • Stress
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Aging
  • Genetics and family history

Some people believe that those with high blood pressure are tense, nervous, or hyperactive, leading to the development of hypertension – but that’s just not the case. High blood pressure has nothing to do with personality traits. A calm, relaxed person can still have high blood pressure.

Treating Hypertension

When it comes to treating hypertension, there’s a whole host of lifestyle changes that can dramatically lower your blood pressure, and many of them are related to some of the conditions associated with causing the prognosis.

First, if you’re overweight, Dr. Matthews recommended getting closer to your ideal body weight. He also said good aerobic exercise on a regular basis or increasing your exercise regimen can result in the lowering of your blood pressure. You should also stop smoking and limit your salt intake.

“Salt is the major food agent that supports the development of high blood pressure in people who are susceptible to it,” Dr. Matthews said.

If lifestyle modifications alone don’t do enough to lower your blood pressure, doctors will sometimes prescribe anti-hypertensive medications. Dr. Matthews says many patients have the misconception that these medications cause more harm than good but that’s not the case.

“There are six or seven groups of medications to treat high blood pressure. Many of them are generic so they are relatively inexpensive and have little or no side effects,” he said.

In some patients, the lifestyle modifications are enough to treat their hypertension, but if they don’t, doctors often combine those modifications with medication.

Even with lifestyle changes and medicine, Dr. Matthews stresses the importance of monitoring your blood pressure regularly.

“I strongly recommend patients monitor their blood pressure at home to be able to know whether they are in danger,” he said.

For patients who may experience false readings or have high blood pressure that is very difficult to control, Abington - Jefferson Health offers 24-hour blood pressure monitoring at home. Patients interested in this service can get a script from their primary care physician and schedule an appointment by calling 215-481-EXAM or contact the Comprehensive Heart Failure Program at 215-481-4100.

Reviewed by Warren B. Matthews, MD on February 14, 2019

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