woods
Friday, 11 May 2012

Under pressure

Hypertension can be a silent killer, but it is preventable, says Angela Epstein

Written by Angel Epstein
We've all had those bloodboiling moments of stress, be it from difficult children, relationship problems, hassles at work, or simply the daily grind of being a multitasking woman in 21st-century Britain.

But while it's normal for blood pressure to soar when we're gripped by anxiety, for the many people in the UK with hypertension (the medical term for sustained high blood pressure) there's often no clear, single cause. This is dangerous as high blood pressure has no symptoms – it is known as the silent killer and accounts for 60 per cent of all strokes in the UK and half of all heart attacks,

'It's easy to think of only overweight people or drinkers and smokers as being at risk,' says Professor Gareth Beevers of the British Blood Pressure Association. But a slim woman who takes exercise could still be a candidate for lots of reasons – such as a high-salt diet, or genetic factors.'

If someone in the family has it, you're at a high risk of developing high blood pressure and if you have one or two parents with hypertension, you're twice as likely to suffer from it. Blood pressure is a measure of the force that the blood applies to the walls of the arteries as it flows through them. High blood pressure occurs if the walls of your arteries lose elasticity, become narrowed or contract too much.

A blood pressure reading is expressed as two numbers, such as 120/80mmHg (120 over 80 millimetres of mercury). The first figure – the systolic blood pressure – is a measure of the pressure when your heart muscle is contracted and pumping blood. This is the highest pressure in your blood vessels. The second figure – the diastolic blood pressure – is the pressure between heart beats when your heart is resting and filling with blood. This is the lowest pressure in your blood vessels. Anything over 140/85 should be monitored. Doctors recommend that your blood pressure iskept below 140/80 – though it rises as we get older, particularly after the menopause.

It is important to get an accurate reading. This is complicated by 'white-coat syndrome', where having blood pressure taken sends the figure soaring. 'If your GP's reading is high, ask to wait a few minutes then have it taken again, and it should be repeated,' says Professor Beevers.

NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) also recommends a 24-hour monitoring session for anyone presenting with high blood pressure, which means wearing a machine. Ask your GP about this – it's important to be proactive. It can also be useful to buy a home monitoring machine. Choose a brand endorsed by the British Hypertension Society or the World Hypertension League. Take a reading twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening, with readings over several days.

So what to do if you do have a high reading? Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol, losing weight and, most significantly, cutting down on salt, are vital. 'Most salt intake comes from packaged foods rather than what we add. So be aware when looking at labels. It's recommended not to exceed more than 6g of salt a day, equal to a teaspoonful.'

In many cases, long-term medication such as ace inhibitors and beta blockers will be needed to keep it under control. 'It's important to pre-empt high blood pressure; that way you can do everything possible to keep it regulated,' says Professor Beevers. 'That's why you need to get your blood pressure checked. If it's fine, you can leave it for five years. If it's slightly high, get it checked every six months to a year. But do get it done. You'll be glad you did.'



How to combat high blood pressure

1 KEEP WEIGHT DOWN

Risk factors rise if your waist measures more than 35in or your BMI (body mass index) is over 25. The calculation is your weight (in kg) divided by your height (in m) squared. Or check the chart at www.bbc.co.uk/health/tools/bmi_calculator/bmi.shtml 

2 EXERCISE

Do 30 minutes a day, at least three times a week. Try salsa dancing or some hectic gardening if the gym has no appeal.

3 SLASH SALT INTAKE

Check food labels when you shop. Keep a sodium diary to ensure you have no more than the recommended 6g (one teaspoon) of salt a day.

4 TAKE VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENTS

A daily supplement of 25mcg may help lower blood pressure.

5 USE HERBS AND SPICES INSTEAD OF SALT TO FLAVOUR FOOD

A study at Xinjiang Medical University found an extract of basil actually reduced blood pressure.

6 BUY SUPERMAR KET PIZZAS

Pizzas from restaurants and takeaways can have up to two and a half times more salt than those from the average supermarket.

7 SNACK ON FRUIT

It's salt-free, low in calories and more likely to fill you up than a packet of crisps.

8 JUST ONE ALCOHOLIC DRINK A DAY

As well as raising blood pressure, alcohol contains calories that can lead to weight gain. Make drinks last longer by choosing mixers.

9 TAKE UP T'AI CHI

A new study has found that people doing this Chinese mind-body exercise were less likely to have high blood pressure.

10 DRINK BEETROOT JUICE

Drinking a daily glass of beetroot juice could be key to preventing high blood pressure, according to a new study.



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