You think you’ve got problems? Try telling someone that their blood pressure reading is high and I’ll guarantee you’ll be faced with incredulity, skepticism or simply frank dismay. “But my blood pressure’s always been low,” is the almost ubiquitous response. There’s a furtive glance at my highly sus sphygmomanometer and a suspicion that my blood pressure interpretation skills could do with some polish.
It is my extreme pleasure to confirm the existence of this sinister condition pretty much at least once a day to an unhappy camper of varying age, sex and appearance. Yesterday it was a 48 year old guy who came in with a completely unrelated problem of a personal nature. He was more than compliant with my request for his sleeve to be rolled up and his upper arm exposed for a quick BP check, but utterly miffed when I told him that 160/100 is simply not an OK result.
“But I feel fine,” he said. That’s always the case. Blood pressure causes no symptoms. Until it is too late. Think of the plumbing pipes running under your house. If those pipes were constantly under pressure that is too high they would start to crack. Not overnight, but gradually small cracks would become bigger and eventually you would have a very costly plumbing emergency on your hands.
When you put the pipes in your system, in this case your arteries, under constant high pressure, they too eventually get damaged. Damage comes in the form of small tears in the lining of the arteries. Cholesterol floating around in your blood stream is like a moth to a flame for those little tears, making their new home in the rough and exposed broken artery walls. Eventually calcium sets in and the arteries become hardened. Years later the arteries can become blocked by all that crud sitting on the broken artery walls and this can cause a heart attack or a stroke. You certainly don’t want to be diagnosed at that point. Far better to nip the whole process in the bud early by finding the problem and getting on top of it ASAP.
Most people promise to take up gym memberships, meditation, pious diets and prayer. Unfortunately, for all but the hard core junk food eating couch potatoes, the effects are usually good, but not enough to solve the problem. If your genetic make-up has pre-programmed you to get cruddy arteries, it’s more a case of when not if you get blood pressure. Unfortunately for almost everyone, high blood pressure needs to be fixed with medication. Not for a week but probably for life.
And there’s the rub. Over the past ten years or so I have come to recognize that the bond that unites all newly diagnosed hypertensives (high blood pressure sufferers) is the prospect of marriage to a medication. Blood pressure is usually the first ‘chronic disease’ that will be picked up, years before diabetes or heart failure or a heart attack. It is the first time anyone has to stand toe to toe with their mortality and it hurts.
Meanwhile, if you, like my 48 year old patient, who is due back in two weeks to remeasure his BP, want to explore non-drug options for treating your BP, try these handy tips;
1. Cut down your salt. Salt is insidious and creeps into every packaged food. You can cook with it but cut back on
anything out of a packet to reduce your salt intake.
2. Add potassium to your diet. The source? The classic veggies and fruit including bananas! One a day on Weetbix for
3. Have more dairy foods. It’s the calcium in the dairy that help lower blood pressure. Three ‘serves’ a day is the go.
4. Cut out (or at least down) your vices, especially cigs and booze. Both independently raise your BP.
And accept that like one in three adults in this great country of ours, you have a condition that is both common and
so easily treated! Good luck.