High blood pressure or hypertension occurs when your blood exerts more pressure on the walls of your blood vessels than normal. Over time, the increased pressure can lead to permanent changes in the blood vessels and cause damage to parts of your body. Untreated, high blood pressure increases the risk of:
The good news is that treatment for high blood pressure can greatly reduce these risks.
People sometimes refer to hypertension as a silent killer because it can go undetected even while damaging the body. If you have high blood pressure, you’re unlikely to have any noticeable symptoms until levels become dangerously elevated. When this happens, you may experience symptoms of a life-threatening medical emergency called a hypertensive crisis. Symptoms include:
A hypertensive crisis requires emergency medical treatment that usually involves high blood pressure medications and other interventions.
Because high blood pressure is unlikely to produce any noticeable signs early on, most people don’t know they have it until they have their blood pressure checked by a medical professional. By getting regular blood pressure screenings, you can help catch hypertension early when it’s easiest to treat.
When you’re stressed, your body releases chemicals that increase your blood pressure as well as your heart rate. This stress response is meant to help you flee or fight off threats. Once you’re away from the danger, your body then returns to normal.
In the modern world, most stressors aren’t brief, life-or-death events. Instead, they’re things like health care concerns, financial problems and strained relationships. As a result, the stress response may be ongoing and contribute to high blood pressure.
If you have hypertension or want to lower your risk, stress management can help. Find something that works for you, such as reading a book, listening to music, deep breathing or yoga. Therapy with a licensed mental health professional can also help you learn to better manage stress in your daily life to benefit your blood pressure and overall health and well-being.
Things you eat and drink can raise your blood pressure. Sodium found in processed foods, fast food and table salt can cause blood pressure levels to rise, as can alcoholic beverages. Making dietary changes can help improve blood pressure levels and possibly prevent hypertension. Some ways to modify your eating plan include:
Regular physical activity can improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure. Strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Some activities that fall under the category of moderate-intensity exercise are:
Exercise can directly impact blood pressure, reduce stress and help you lose weight to further control hypertension. If you’re new to exercise, talk to your medical provider about what activities are right for you.
Some over-the-counter medications that are generally safe for most people can cause dangerous increases in blood pressure levels in those with hypertension. Types of over-the-counter drugs and supplements known to raise blood pressure include:
Prescription medications like some antidepressants and corticosteroids can also elevate blood pressure, so make sure to discuss your medical history if you seek treatment from a new provider.
Monitoring your blood pressure at home can help you better control hypertension. When you check your numbers several times per day, you can see how foods and activities affect you. Plus, you can gather information that your medical provider can use to assess how well your treatment plan is working. Even seniors who don’t have hypertension can benefit from using a home blood pressure monitor regularly to catch changes in blood pressure early.