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The Silent Killer
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is sometimes referred to as the silent killer because it often does not create any physical symptoms until it is severe. As it is a major risk factor for heart disease it is a serious health condition that should not be ignored. With high blood pressure the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body. Damage can occur to blood vessel walls, which contributes to atherosclerosis, further exacerbating cardiovascular health. It is estimated that around one-third of American adults have this condition.
How to reduce high blood pressure? Through eating a heart-healthy diet, getting plenty of regular physical activity and evaluating lifestyle choices you can effectively treat hypertension. Your doctor may also recommend taking medications to help lower your blood pressure.
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The DASH Diet
A heart-healthy diet that is rich in fiber, nutrients, and essential fatty acids is a foundational step towards treating and managing hypertension. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is an eating plan that is specifically designed to help people with high blood pressure. It was developed based on studies done by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The diet emphasizes minimizing saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat, reducing red meat and sugars, and including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy products.
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Regular exercise is another tool for controlling blood pressure. Why? Physical activity strengthens the heart, making blood pumping easier, and decreasing the force needed to circulate blood through the arteries. To be effective, just like with dietary changes, you need to make exercise a part of your life. Doing it for two months and then becoming sedentary again will not help you treat hypertension.
What type of exercise is needed? Actually, it does not have to be intense or difficult. What is important is that it is aerobic. Try running, walking, biking, swimming, or playing your favorite game such as tennis or soccer. Even chores around the house such as raking leaves and mowing the lawn, or chasing the kids around the house, are great aerobic activities. Try to exercise for about thirty minutes, five to six days a week. If you are new to exercise, then start slow, with twenty minutes three or four days a week and then build-up to solid, heart-healthy habits.
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More Ways to Reduce High Blood Pressure Read on to learn how to reduce high blood pressure with lifestyle changes and medications.
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Diet and exercise are so important for lowering blood pressure but there may be other things that you can do as well. Take a look at your lifestyle. Now that you are eating right and getting plenty of exercise it is time to cut out the other factors that increase your risk for hypertension and heart disease — smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and being overweight. Tobacco smoke harms blood vessel walls, which causes deposits to form at the injured sites. This hardens and narrows blood vessels (atherosclerosis) making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood through the body. Quitting smoking for one year already greatly reduces your risk of heart disease.
Excessive drinking also raises blood pressure. Alcohol has a negative effect on the liver, brain, and the heart. Even the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute allows for moderation, so you do not have to give up alcohol. You do need to keep it to a maximum of one drink a day for women and two for men.
Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of physical activity will help you lose weight. This is so important for treating high blood pressure — even losing ten pounds can make a difference. On the other hand, as weight increases, so does blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about what is a healthy weight for you and make reaching and maintaining it a goal.
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Your doctor may also recommend that you take a class of drugs known as antihypertensives to help control your blood pressure. What is available? Diuretics such as chlorthalidone, metolazone, and triamterene can be taken to help the body get rid of excess fluids and salt, thus relieving blood pressure. Possible side effects include a loss of potassium, a raise of blood sugar levels, gout, and impotence.
Beta-blockers are used to slow the heart rate thereby reducing the workload of the heart. Atenolol, nadolol, betaxolol, and solotol hydrochloride are all beta-blockers. Side effects include insomnia, impotence, cold hands and feet, depression, asthma symptoms, and a slow heartbeat. Talk to your doctor before taking this drug if you have diabetes or if you may become pregnant.
Alpha-blockers relax the muscle tone of the vascular walls so there is less resistance for blood flow. They include doxazosin mesylate, prazosin hydrochloride, and terazosin hydrochloride. Side effects include dizziness and a fast heart rate.
There are two vasodilators on the market, which help to relax blood vessels. Hydralazine hydrochloride is one, it can cause headaches, heart palpitations, and joint pain. Minoxidil is another one that is usually only used in severe cases, it can cause fluid retention and excessive hair growth.
There are different options available for how to reduce high blood pressure. Diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle choices are the foundation for preventing and controlling hypertension. Medications are another option, although there are side effects. The list of potential solutions is not exhausted however as alternative therapies such as mind-body medicine, herbal therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic medicine may be beneficial as well. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
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"Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH." (NHLBI) <www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf>
Mayo Clinic <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/HI00024>
Web MD <http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/treating-hypertension-naturally>
photo by M Jorge (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/srosengren/5060760118/sizes/m/in/photostream/>
photo by Stefan Ros (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/srosengren/5060760118/sizes/m/in/photostream/>
photo by D Sharon Pruitt (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/4004791663/sizes/m/in/photostream/>