Bringing Down High Blood Pressure

What is it?
Just about everybody has heard about high blood pressure, or hypertension. It is generally diagnosed in adults when the systolic blood pressure (the upper number) is greater than 140 and the diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) is above 90.

What causes it?
There are several factors that are known to contribute to hypertension, including a family history of hypertension, high salt intake, obesity, stress, smoking, and drinking.

Treatment Via Lifestyle Changes
The treatment of hypertension usually focuses on minimizing factors that are known to trigger hypertension. Lowering the amounts of fat, cholesterol, and salt will aid in the treatment of hypertension and will also help in the maintenance of a healthy weight (remember, obesity is another factor in hypertension). Exercising regularly is also beneficial, both as a direct treatment for hypertension, and also to aid in maintaining a healthy body weight. Reducing general life stress is also a good strategy for combating hypertension.

Drinking alcohol and smoking are both big no-nos. Even small amounts of alcohol may raise blood pressure in some people. As for smoking, within minutes of inhaling, your blood pressure increases. Smoking also damages blood vessel walls, contributes to hardening of the arteries, speeds up your pulse, and increases how hard your heart has to work. If you want to be able to stay off of medication, you should first eliminate as many of the contributing factors as possible. Drinking and smoking should be the first to go. This should be followed by the adoption of a healthy diet and regular exercise program, combined with a stress reduction program (which can include several methods such as biofeedback, yoga, medication, and relaxation therapy).

Treatment Via Medication
If your diastolic number (the lower number) is above 95, it is likely that your doctor will prescribe medication. There are many types of anti-hypertensive drugs including diuretics, converting enzyme inhibitors, calcium-channel blockers, sympatholytics, and vasodilators. Diuretics lower the body's fluid volume through increasing urination. Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) reduce the production of a hormone that increases blood pressure. Calcium-channel blockers cause the walls of the blood vessels to relax, thereby lowering blood pressure. Sympatholytics act on parts of the nervous system to relax the heart and blood vessels. This class of drugs is not usually prescribed during pregnancy. Vasodilators also cause the blood vessels to relax, are only used in severe cases of hypertension, and are rarely prescribed for women because one kind of vasodilator can induce increased hair growth.

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