High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when your blood pressure increases to unhealthy levels. The amount of blood passing through your blood vessels and the amount of resistance the blood meets while the heart is pumping determines your blood pressure.
The narrower your arteries are, the higher your blood pressure will be. Over the long term, increased pressure can cause health issues, including heart disease.
What are the symptoms of hypertension?
Hypertension is generally a silent condition. Many people won’t experience any symptoms. It may take years or even decades for the condition to reach levels severe enough that symptoms become obvious. Even after that, these symptoms may be attributed to other issues.
Symptoms of severe hypertension can include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- visual changes
- blood in the urine
These symptoms require immediate medical attention. These symptoms don’t occur with everyone with hypertension, but it’s always wise to check your symptoms with the doctor as soon as you notice them.
The best way to know if you have hypertension is to get regular blood pressure readings which you can get in every doctor’s appointment.
What are the effects of high blood pressure on the body?
Since hypertension is a silent condition, it can cause damage to your body for years before symptoms become obvious. If hypertension isn’t treated, you may face serious, even fatal, complications.
Complications of hypertension include the following.
Healthy arteries are flexible and strong. Blood flows freely and unobstructed through healthy arteries and vessels.
Hypertension makes arteries tougher, tighter, and less elastic. As a result, dietary fats easily deposit in your arteries and restrict blood flow. This damage can lead to increased blood pressure, blockages, and, eventually, heart attack and stroke.
Hypertension makes your heart work too hard. The increased pressure in your blood vessels forces your heart’s muscles to pump more frequently and with more force than a healthy heart should have to.
This may cause an enlarged heart. An enlarged heart increases your risk for the following:
- heart failure
- sudden cardiac death
- heart attack
Your brain relies on a healthy supply of oxygen-rich blood to work properly. High blood pressure can reduce your brain’s supply of blood:
- Temporary blockages of blood flow to the brain are called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).
- Significant blockages of blood flow cause brain cells to die. This is known as a stroke.
Uncontrolled hypertension may also affect your memory and ability to learn, recall, speak, and reason. Treating hypertension often doesn’t erase or reverse the effects of uncontrolled hypertension. It does, however, lower the risks for future problems.
Dietary recommendations for people with high blood pressure
One of the easiest ways to treat hypertension and prevent possible complications is with your diet. What you eat can go a long way toward easing or eliminating hypertension.
Here are some of the most common dietary recommendations for people with hypertension.
Plant based diet
A plant-based diet is an easy way to increase fiber and reduce the amount of sodium and unhealthy saturated and trans fat you take in from dairy foods and meat. Increase the number of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, and whole grains you’re eating. Instead of red meat, opt for healthier lean proteins like fish, poultry, or tofu.
Reduce dietary sodium
People with hypertension and those with an increased risk for heart disease need to keep their daily sodium intake between 1,500 milligrams and 2,300 milligrams per day. The best way to reduce sodium is to cook fresh foods and avoid eating restaurant food or prepackaged foods, which are often very high in sodium.
Cut back on sweets
Sugary foods and beverages contain empty calories but don’t have nutritional content. If you want something sweet, try eating fresh fruit or small amounts of dark chocolate that haven’t been sweetened as much with sugar. Studies suggest regularly eating dark chocolate may reduce blood pressure.
High blood pressure: Tips for prevention
If you have risk factors for hypertension, you can take steps now to lower your risk for the condition and its complications.
Add healthy foods to your diet
Slowly work your way up to eating more servings of heart-healthy plants. Aim to eat more than seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Then aim to add one more serving per day for two weeks. After those two weeks, aim to add one more serving. The goal is to have ten servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Try to incorporate fewer sugar-sweetened foods, including flavored yogurts, cereals, and sodas. Packaged foods hide unnecessary sugar, so be sure to read labels.
Set weight loss goals
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a weight loss goal of one to two pounds a week. That means starting off eating 500 calories less per day than what you normally eat. Then decide on what physical activity you can start in order to reach that goal. Tune your body slowly to reach your weight loss goal instead of pressuring your body all of a sudden.
Monitor your blood pressure regularly
The best way to prevent complications and avoid problems is to catch hypertension early. You can come into your doctor’s office for a blood pressure reading, or your doctor may ask you to purchase a blood pressure cuff and take readings at home.
Keep a log of your blood pressure readings and take it to your regular doctor appointments. This can help your doctor see any possible problems before the condition advances.
The key to hypertension prevention is watching out for symptoms and management. What are your thoughts on this article? Share your thoughts in the comment section.