Hypertension or high blood pressure is when the blood pressure in the arteries is higher than it should be. It forces the heart to work harder to circulate the blood through the vessels.
Hypertension is a very common medical condition which can become chronic. In old age, most of us are at risk of getting it. If left untreated the condition can lead to other chronic, even life-threatening, health issues like heart disease and stroke.
The good news is that high blood pressure can be easily detected at a routine doctor’s appointment. And, once you know you have it you can work with your doctor to treat it and get it back under control.
But, in order to deal with hypertension, we first need to understand the truth about the condition. Here are 4 common myths that we need to dispell:
MYTH 1: If high blood pressure runs in the family you will get it
You are at a bigger risk of getting high blood pressure if it runs in your family but, armed with this information, you can do certain things to lower this risk. The most important of all is to live a healthy lifestyle by focusing on the following 5 areas:
- Eat healthy foods and maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t over-use salt - no more than 1,500 milligrams a day
- Don’t smoke tobacco and limit your intake of alcohol
- Avoid stress as much as possible
- Exercise regularly
MYTH 2: Only one of the blood pressure numbers has to be normal
If you have had your blood pressure tested at the doctor, you will have noticed that the result shows one number over another number.
The top number is called your systolic blood pressure and normal reading is 119 or below, 120-129 is elevated, and 130 or more is high blood pressure. The systolic number represents the force of blood through your blood vessels during your heartbeat.
The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure and represents the force of blood through your blood vessels in between heartbeats. Seventy-nine or below is considered a normal diastolic blood pressure while 80 or more is high.
Most people believe the top systolic number is the only one to watch but this isn’t altogether true because the heart can actually better manage a higher systolic number than a high diastolic number. The only problem is when we age our systolic blood pressure tends to rise considerably more than the diastolic blood pressure, which may even decrease as we get older.
Ultimately, it is best to keep an eye on both numbers to make sure they are always sitting at a normal reading. If they are both consistently elevated you should discuss with your doctor how to decrease the numbers before you end up with hypertension and other chronic diseases relating to the condition.
MYTH 3: Once the blood pressure is high there is no real treatment to get it back to normal
Actually, if you work with your doctor to develop a comprehensive program for managing your high blood pressure, you can get it back to normal. However, this means sticking to the plan and changing your lifestyle to do this. The following are steps you will most likely need to take as part of your treatment:
- Regular blood pressure checks - your doctor will tell you how often.
- Keep on your treatment plan no matter what. And communicate with your doctor the moment you have issues sticking to the plan.
- Go to all your doctor’s appointments. If you have to miss one, immediately make another one to replace it.
- Change to a healthy lifestyle and stick to it.
- Radically reduce your salt intake
- Read about high blood pressure and learn everything there is to know about decreasing the systolic and diastolic numbers.
MYTH 4: One can always tell or feel it in the body if blood pressure is high
This isn’t necessarily true. High blood pressure can build up over many years without you knowing it because most people won’t show any symptoms.
This is why it is so important to live a healthy lifestyle and keep a check on your health especially if you are at a higher risk of getting hypertension. If this is the case, you should get regular check-ups at your doctor.
Even though there are often no real symptoms, if you start suffering from headaches, shortness of breath and nosebleeds, you may have high blood pressure. Then do go get it checked with a very simple, pain-free and accurate test at your doctor.
When your blood pressure has reached a dangerously high reading you may present with any of the following symptoms. At this stage, you should immediately see your doctor.
- Sudden severe headache
- Extreme fatigue
- Sudden issues with vision
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing, a feeling of a tight chest
- Heartbeat feels strange and irregular
- Blood in the urine
- Persistent throbbing sensation in the neck, ears or chest
- Swelling of feet
When are you most at risk?
Get your blood pressure read every two years from as early as 18 years of age. Once you turn 40 you should get a reading once a year. Your risk of hypertension increases with age. By the time you are in your mid-60s, you should be getting your blood pressure checked at least two or three times a year.
Other reasons you may be at higher risk are:
- If you are of African heritage
- If it runs in the family
- If you live a very stressed lifestyle
- If you are obese
- If you eat badly and particularly if you eat too much salt
- If you live an inactive lifestyle
- If you have diabetes, snoring at night or kidney disease
- If you smoke and drink too much
The simple answer to living a long life is to be healthy and to lower your risk of getting hypertension by having your blood pressure read at your routine doctor’s visits.
For more information please contact:
Dr E Kabuzi (Specialist Physician)
MBChB (MUK) DTM & H (WITS) Dip. HIV Man (SA) Dip. Diabetes Man (UK)
Randfontein Private Hospital
+27 (0) 87 087 2746
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org