High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, is an epidemic in the U.S. Affecting nearly half the population, many individuals don’t even know they have this condition.  Blood pressure measures the amount of force exerted against artery walls as blood flows through. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to many serious health issues.
Yet, by some estimates, only roughly half of the people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure have it under control.  Fortunately, there are solutions available to prevent high blood pressure, as well as treatments to help patients regain control if their blood pressure is already high.
Of course, effective treatment and prevention are built on an in-depth understanding of blood pressure. Whether you’re unsure of your risk for developing hypertension or you’ve already been diagnosed, here’s what you need to know about the “silent killer.”
Which Blood Pressure Levels Are Considered Healthy?
When your blood pressure is taken, you’re given two numbers. The upper number represents your systolic blood pressure, or the pressure blood exerts against the artery walls with each heartbeat. The second number is your diastolic blood pressure, which measures how much pressure blood exerts against the artery walls at rest in between beats.
Blood Pressure Categories
Here’s the breakdown of the current blood pressure categories and their ranges (measured in mmHg):
Individuals with normal blood pressure should have their blood pressure tested at least every two years; all other patients should follow their doctor’s recommendations for testing, which may include at-home tests.
The Dangers of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the most common causes of death in the U.S.  The added pressure on artery walls can damage blood vessels and organs throughout your body. The longer the condition goes uncontrolled, the more damage can occur.
High blood pressure can harden and thicken artery walls, leading to the condition called atherosclerosis which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke risk. High blood pressure is also linked to heart failure, aneurysm, kidney complications, vision problems or loss, dementia, and vascular dementia.
Additionally, hypertension is encompassed by metabolic syndrome, the cluster of disorders including high triglycerides and high insulin levels, among other symptoms, associated with increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
It is therefore no surprise that physicians implore their patients to be vigilant about high blood pressure prevention and control, as well as watching for possible symptoms.
As mentioned above, high blood pressure is often referred to as “the silent killer,” mainly because it’s often asymptomatic – even when blood pressure reaches dangerous levels. In some cases, patients may experience headaches, nosebleeds, or shortness of breath.
However, patients are most likely to experience the following symptoms only upon experiencing a hypertensive crisis, at which point immediate medical intervention is needed:
- Blurred or double vision
- Heart palpitations
- Breathlessness 
Because symptoms of high blood pressure may not manifest until levels are dangerously high, it’s critically important for individuals to understand the condition’s causes and contributing factors.
Causes of High Blood Pressure
For most of the population, there is no single, discernible cause of high blood pressure. This is called primary or essential hypertension and is believed to develop gradually over time. In secondary hypertension, high blood pressure is directly caused by an underlying medical condition, such as:
- Kidney problems
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Thyroid issues
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Congenital defects in blood vessels
- Certain medications
- Illegal drugs, including amphetamines and cocaine 
Risk Factors of High Blood Pressure
Although there is no single, distinct cause of high blood pressure, the following increase the likelihood of developing high blood pressure:
Despite the fact that essential hypertension may lack a single established cause, there is strong evidence linking certain risk factors to an increased likelihood of developing high blood pressure. These risk factors include:
- Age: Risk of high blood pressure increases with age. Men are more likely to experience hypertension until age 64; thereafter, it is more prevalent among women.
- Race: High blood pressure occurs more often in African Americans than white individuals.
- Family history: Hypertension often runs in families.
- Being overweight or obese: The more a person weighs, the more blood is needed to transport vital nutrients to tissues. When the volume of blood increases, it also increases pressure against artery walls.
- Chronic Conditions: People with certain immune system conditions such as psoriasis have a higher risk of high blood pressure. High blood sugar, a characteristic of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, is also linked to hypertension. 
Lifestyle Risk Factors
- Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise is linked to higher heart rates, which forces the heart to work harder and therefore increases blood pressure.
- Tobacco use: Smoking and chewing tobacco elevates blood pressure immediately and can cause long-term damage to artery walls.
- High-sodium diets: People who eat less salt have been found to have lower blood pressure than those who consume it in excess.
- Poor diet: The relationship between fat and blood pressure has long been studied. While high-fat diets were once considered a causative agent behind hypertension, experts have begun to warn against the type of fats – not the volume – being consumed. Specifically, trans fats found in processed foods pose the greatest threat to both blood pressure and overall health.
- Stress: Researchers have linked mental stress with high blood pressure, especially when stress is experienced over the long-term.
- Alcohol Consumption: Systolic blood pressure levels are roughly 7 mmHg higher in individuals who drink regularly than those who abstain from alcohol.
With these risk factors in mind, let’s explore some of the ways elevated blood pressure, as well as more advanced stages of hypertension, can be treated.
Treatments for High Blood Pressure
Recommended treatments for high blood pressure vary based on the patient’s stage. For example, if high blood pressure is elevated, lifestyle changes may be enough to bring levels down within range. Regular exercise (burning more than 1,500 calories per week) has been shown to reduce hypertension by 27%. 
In general, individuals who exercise 30 to 60 minutes per week can expect to reduce their blood pressure by 4-9 mmHg. Weight loss is likewise effective for reducing blood pressure, with some research suggesting even losing ten pounds can make a significant impact in controlling high blood pressure. Moreover, medications used for controlling high blood pressure are typically more effective when patients are at a healthy weight. 
Treatments for High Blood Pressure
Recommended treatments for high blood pressure may vary based on the patient’s stage. However, the following are typical treatments:
Of course, the challenge of losing weight lies in improving both exercise and dietary choices. Eating a diet rich in lean protein, vegetables, and fruits can lower blood pressure by up to 11 mmHg for patients with hypertension.  Limiting sodium intake can also help but, most importantly, processed foods should be avoided as many contain inordinate amounts of sodium. 
If needed, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may also be recommended by some physicians to help control portion size, cholesterol, and sodium intake, while also promoting an overall balanced diet.
Managing stress and following a cleaner lifestyle by minimizing alcohol intake and quitting smoking are also lifestyle changes which can help with early stages of hypertension. Additionally, optimizing your sleep schedule may also contribute to improving blood pressure.
Understanding High Blood Pressure – In Conclusion
High blood pressure is a serious though largely preventable condition. With so many means to control it, patients have a variety of options to work towards a healthier range or maintain normal blood pressure levels if they’re already at an ideal level. Yet, many individuals remain unaware of their risk and precisely what can be done to preserve their health both now and into the future.
Cenegenics gives adults the tools they need to optimize wellness at every age. Our program prioritizes weight management, nutrition, improved sleep and, when needed, hormone optimization, to help patients achieve their healthiest life. Reduced blood pressure is a natural byproduct of participating in the highly personalized program, which takes into consideration each patient’s current health, genetic risk factors, and lifestyle.
Our physicians also perform a robust patient analysis, going far beyond blood pressure tests, to achieve an accurate and detailed picture of disease risk and health. This sets the foundation for a comprehensive treatment plan which addresses any immediate concerns, such as high blood pressure, while also taking a preventive approach to chronic disease for long-term wellness. Ultimately, we don’t simply help patients achieve a specific measure for normal blood pressure but instead enable sustainable changes for a healthier, more vibrant life overall.
If you’re interested in learning how Cenegenics can help you control your blood pressure and achieve a better state of wellness for the long term, find a center near you to get started.