High blood pressure, otherwise known as Hypertension, is still the most common reason that adult Americans see their doctors. Approximately one in four adults have this condition. An estimated 5 to 10 million people may have high blood pressure but are unaware of their illness. Hypertension contributes directly or indirectly to more than 800,000 deaths a year. Although treating this condition usually requires a change in lifestyle and/or the use of medication, it can be successfully managed in most people. Many deaths can be prevented if hypertension is found early and managed properly. High blood pressure is a major reason why people have strokes or heart attacks. The good news is that stroke deaths have decreased by more than 60% and deaths caused by heart disease have decreased by more than 50% over the past 25 years; much, but obviously not all, of this increase in life span can be attributed to earlier and better treatment of high blood pressure.
How Do We Recognize Hypertension?
Unlike a toothache or backache, high blood pressure may not produce any symptoms. Some people can tell when their blood pressure is elevated, but the only sure way to tell is to measure it. People may not know they have high blood pressure until it begins to cause trouble with the heart, brain, or kidneys.
What Is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force exerted by the bloodstream against the walls of arteries. Everyone has some blood pressure. It is absolutely necessary to get blood to our vital organs and muscles. Normally, each time our heart beats (about 60 to 80 times a minute at rest), it pushes blood out into the larger arteries, which carry blood from the heart. The blood then flows into smaller arteries to various parts of the body, such as the liver, the kidney, or the brain, and then returns to the heart through the veins. The smaller arteries between the arteries and veins, called arterioles, can open wide (dilate) or close (constrict). The beating action of the heart may be compared with a pump. If the arteries and veins are kept open, ﬂuid will ﬂow freely through the hose, and little pressure is built up on the walls of the hose. If, however, the arteries are constricted, increased pressure builds up and the pump must work harder.
Blood pressure can vary widely. It can rise when you are excited or nervous or while you exercise, or it may become low when you sleep. Most people do not know that blood pressure is high just before they wake up in the morning (6–8 AM). It remains at these levels during the day and decreases during sleep. Blood pressure may vary within the course of a day by as much as 20 to 30 points in someone with “normal” blood pressure and even more in someone with untreated hypertension. Therefore, a single reading should not be used to make a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is recorded in two numbers as millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). For example:120 mm Hg systolic (pumping pressure) and 80 mm Hg diastolic (resting pressure) would be spoken of as “120 over 80" mm Hg systolic (pumping pressure over resting pressure). So-called normal blood pressure may be as low as 70/50 mm Hg in infants, or as high as about 135/85 mm Hg in adults. “Normal” blood pressure for people under 18 is usually below 120/80 mm Hg. Over the age of 18, a reading up to about 140/90 mm Hg is considered within the normal range. An optimal or ideal BP in an adult is about 120/80. If an adult’s blood pressure is consistently 140/90 mm Hg or higher, he or she has high blood pressure or hypertension. Many physicians believe that today's guidelines for blood pressure levels are dangerously high. The available drugs to treat high blood pressure come with a host of adverse side effects effects, from edema to electrolyte imbalance.
The higher the pressure, the greater the risk. Untreated, even higher levels of blood pressure may develop, and the risk of kidney failure, a heart attack, or stroke is increased. If you are one of those people with a blood pressure that is even occasionally high, it is probably wise to have it rechecked periodically. If the measurements remain at or above 140/90 mm, your doctor will probably suggest a change in diet or lifestyle modification. Many cases of hypertension involve increased arterial stiffness, or lack of elasticity, which usually begins in the arterioles and larger arteries.
Risk factors for high blood pressure include a family history, smoking, unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
In terms of natural supplements, oleuropein, a bioactive compound found in olive leaf extract, has been shown in controlled clinical trials to reduce systolic blood pressure by an average 11.5 poings, diastolic blood pressure by 4.8 points, and provided other vascular health benefits. Oleuropein, a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet rich in olives and olive oil, favorably modulates arterial resistance or stiffness. Eating celery has also been shown to help lower blood pressure.
What About Low Blood Pressure?
People used to believe that low blood pressure (for example, about 110/70 mm Hg or below in an adult) was dangerous. Except in rare cases, this is not true. We know that the lower your blood pressure (both the upper and the lower reading), the less chance you will have of the occurrence of stroke or heart attack. In some cases, people with low blood pressure may tire easily or feel faint when standing in a hot room or after a few alcoholic drinks, but in most instances, they have no symptoms.