The Very High Odds of Hypertension

Just having our blood pressure tested can raise it. Hearts tend to speed up as the nurse squeezes the upper arm into a black cuff, tightened with Velcro, to measure how well our arteries are handling the 2,000 gallons of blood tumbling through each day.

The reading will depend on the condition of the heart and arteries. The more blood the heart pumps and the narrower the arteries, the higher the blood pressure. But relaxed or nervous, 1 in 1.92 (52%) adults 35 or older will leave that appointment diagnosed with hypertension, which is considered a blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, raises the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, which causes 1 out of every 2.8 deaths in the US. It builds over many years, and so risk increases with age. African Americans develop the condition earlier and suffer more complications than people of other races. Chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and kidney disease predispose the body to hypertension. Tobacco smoking, stress, and low physical activity all jack up blood pressure. High salt consumption and being overweight are other risk factors, which explains why menopausal woman often develop hypertension as their bodies gain extra pounds and become salt sensitive.

Since 1979, public health guidelines have recommended that adults cut back on salt. Today, the goal of ingesting only 1,500 mg of salt per day is a major feature of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Recently, researchers challenged that advice in a 2009 issue of Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, noting that human physiology requires certain amounts of sodium to function, and that any attempt to fool with the body’s normal sodium cravings could waste public funds and endanger health.

Sugar or fructose may soon take salt’s spotlight. Today, Americans consume four times more fructose than 100 years ago. A recent study out of University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center found that people who consumed more than 74 grams of fructose, equivalent to 2.5 sugary drinks per day, led to a 36% higher risk for blood pressure readings of 140/90.

A healthy lifestyle eliminates a great deal of the risk factors for high blood pressure. For example, an obese person can lower their blood pressure by losing just five pounds. Serious hypertension is treated with medications that relax blood vessels or slow down the heartbeat, and, of course, with orders to exercise at least 30 minutes a day and keep those doctor’s appointments.

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