Hypertension: Not just for the elderly

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Well, folks, we are in the middle of October already which means it is almost the beginning of “eating season” as I like to call it. A friend of mine notes that Fall is harvest season, a time when we have gathered crops for hundreds of years. She rationalizes and some literature does agree that since our bodies have changed very little since olden times, we are programmed to slow down during this time and eat more of the harvested crops. Sounds somewhat logical but as I get older, it becomes more difficult to undo the damage we do to ourselves by overeating or making poor food choices. 

I was prompted to write about the subject of hypertension when another friend of mine told me he suffers from it. His news came as a surprise to me because he is a young man in his early 30s. Just so we know what we are talking about here, hypertension is defined as chronically elevated blood pressure over 139/80. Like diabetes, there are 2 types of hypertension: essential which has no medical explanation and secondary which is caused by another disease. One of the dangers of persistent diabetes is that it is a risk factor strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, aneurysms and renal failure. Even moderate elevation of blood pressure can take years off your life and when left unchecked hypertension can do irreparable damage to vital organs.
Something to note about hypertension is that it does not always have symptoms which is why they call it “The Silent Killer”. Many people, young and old, die suddenly from complications of hypertension they never knew they had or did not manage. However, some known symptoms to watch for are: 
  • Unexplained but severe headache
  • Nausea with headache 
  • light-headedness/dizziness
  • sudden or gradual blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain 
**If all of these symptoms happen together suddenly and acutely, go to the hospital immediately. If they are accompanied by weakness, they might indicate a stroke.
Risk factors that contribute to hypertension:
  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Race ( Black people have it more often than whites and get it younger)
  • Socio-economic history ( poorer people lower quality foods)
  • Heredity
  • Gender ( usually men get it more than women!)
Changeable behaviors that spike hypertension:
  • Diet/Salt intake: some people are sensitive to salt which spikes their blood pressure. Lowering salt intake can lower their blood pressure. Did you know that a) Americans take in 10-15 times more salt than they need (b) Most prepared foods contain much more than the recommended serving of sodium so read food labels carefully. Add extra flavoring to your own food with spices and sea salt which might be better for you and does not require a heavy hand
  • Alcohol use: drinking more than a couple of drinks a day can spike blood pressure.
  • Obesity: obese people are 2 to 6 times more likely to develop HBP and those who gain weight mostly around their middle (central obesity) are at a greater risk for heart attack.
  • Inactivity: being sedentary can lead to obesity which can lead to HBP.
  • Drugs: diet pills, amphetamines, and even cold/allergy medications can raise blood pressure.
  • Birth control pills: some contraceptive pills can contribute to high blood pressure in some women.
As with all diseases, preventing or managing hypertension requires self awareness and education. It is said that 35% of how we age is genetic and the other 65% is lifestyle so as you face the buffet table this holiday season make the best choice for your longevity.
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