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Monday, Jan. 4, 2016

High to a Fault

Lifestyle is important to maintaining blood pressure

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Lifestyle is important to maintaining blood pressure

You’ve probably heard someone – whether it’s a doctor, nurse or concerned family member – warn of the dangers of high blood pressure. A healthy blood pressure is more than a basic advisory; it’s the foundation for a healthy body.

As LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport assistant professor of internal medicine Dr. Paari Dominic said, a healthy blood pressure is important because all bodily systems are connected through arteries. When blood pressure is too high, the body is forced to overwork itself to supply blood throughout its systems, especially to end organs such as the brain, kidneys and the heart.

“All these [systems] are affected when you have high blood pressure,” Dominic said. “You’ll have kidney problems, heart attacks, stroke, etc. All these things can reduce your chance of survival.”

Though high blood pressure can cause disastrous consequences, it can be relatively simple to avoid for most, Dominic said.

“The first and foremost way to avoid high blood pressure is to have a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “The first thing we do before starting medications is talk about lifestyle modifications.” Some of these lifestyle modifications include exercising daily, eating healthy, increasing fiber intake and decreasing salt and fat intake (especially saturated fats).

Dominic said psychology can also play a role in high blood pressure, and highly stressed, Type A individuals are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure. For these individuals, medication and finding ways to decrease stress are helpful.

Medication for those with high blood pressure is also important, Dominic said, but lifestyle changes are equally if not more important in lowering blood pressure.

Heightened blood pressure shows no preference to gender or race and is not typically associated with family history. Hypertension, which is chronic high blood pressure, is associated with family history and is more likely to affect African Americans. Dominic said though genetics play a role in hypertension, it is still a modifiable disease.

A normal blood pressure is typically less than 120 for the top number and less than 80 for the bottom number. However, Dominic said the norm can be individual dependent. He said women tend to have a lower normal blood pressure. The top number is always the higher of the two numbers, known as systolic. It measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number, the lower number, is diastolic. It measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

Hypertension is diagnosed when an individual has a consistent resting blood pressure of 140/90. According to stateofobesity.org, Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation in number of residents suffering from hypertension. In 2013, 39.8 percent of the adult population had hypertension, and there were 882,898 cases of hypertension in 2010. Using this data, over a million hypertension cases are projected for 2030 if the current pace continues.

Seemingly small changes can have a huge impact on blood pressure, Dominic said. For example, if the bottom number increases from 80 to 90, an individual is two and a half more times likely to develop a stroke. If a 35-year-old individual’s blood pressure increases from 120/80 to 130/90, he or she loses four years from his or her life. The more his or her blood pressure increases, the more years of life he or she loses.

Lifestyle changes can help decrease high blood pressure. For example, participating in regular, physical activity can lower blood pressure by 10 millimeters mercury. Decreasing one’s salt intake can lower blood pressure by 5 millimeters mercury, and reducing alcohol consumption can lower blood pressure by 8 millimeters mercury.

Dominic said the complications of high blood pressure are more than just health problems; high blood pressure takes away life.

“We as physicians always think to prevent heart attacks and prevent stroke. In general, just high blood pressure itself decreases survival,” he said.

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