Blood Pressure Facts: Separating Myth from Reality
Blood pressure is a common term that we hear or read frequently in our daily lives. It is a measure of the force with which blood flows through the arteries in our body. Hypertension or high blood pressure, in simple terms, is a condition when the force of blood flowing through the arteries exceeds the normal range. While there are multiple misconceptions about blood pressure, this article sets out to separate the myths from facts and provide you with a complete understanding of this often-misunderstood topic.
Blood Pressure: The Basics
Before we dive into the details, let’s discuss some fundamentals of blood pressure.
- What is Blood Pressure? Blood pressure (BP) refers to the pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of our arteries.
- What is Systolic and Diastolic Pressure? Blood pressure is measured using two numbers- systolic and diastolic. The systolic pressure is the force of blood against artery walls when the heart beats, while the diastolic pressure is the force of blood on the walls of arteries when the heart is at rest. Normal blood pressure is said to be around 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury).
- What is Hypertension or High Blood Pressure (HBP)? If your blood pressure readings consistently show that your systolic pressure is 130 or higher, or your diastolic pressure is 80 or higher, you may have HBP. This condition can damage organs, increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and other health problems.
- What is Hypotension or Low Blood Pressure (LBP)? Hypotension is the opposite of hypertension, the blood pressure level is lower than normal (under 90/60 mmHg). It can lead to fainting or lightheadedness and can be caused by various conditions.
Blood Pressure Myths Vs. Reality
Myth: High blood pressure affects only older people.
It’s a common myth that only the elderly suffer from hypertension, but recent studies have shown that people of any age can develop high blood pressure. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in four men and one in five women aged 35 to 44 years have high blood pressure. So, it’s essential to keep a check on your blood pressure levels, no matter what age you are.
Myth: If you feel fine, your blood pressure must be okay.
High blood pressure is a ‘silent killer.’ It often has no symptoms, so even if you feel fine, your blood pressure could still be in the danger zone. It’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly, especially if you have a family history of high blood pressure, are overweight or smoke.
Myth: Stress is not a significant factor in high blood pressure.
Stress does not cause high blood pressure, but chronic stress can increase the risk of developing hypertension. When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones that cause your heart to beat faster, and your blood vessels to narrow, leading to an increase in blood pressure. It is essential to manage stress to keep your blood pressure under control.
Myth: High blood pressure cannot be treated.
Treating high blood pressure is possible! Modifying your diet, exercising regularly, and medication can help control your blood pressure levels. Regular blood pressure check-ups and adherence to the recommended lifestyle changes can improve your overall health.
Myth: Low blood pressure is always healthy.
While hypotension is not always a cause for concern, severe hypotension can impair organ function and may lead to fainting or dizziness, especially when standing up quickly. Hypotension can also lead to decreased blood flow to the brain and other organs, leading to complications such as heart failure or stroke.
Blood Pressure and Lifestyle
Regular exercise can help manage blood pressure.
Exercise is one of the best ways to control blood pressure. Physical activity strengthens the heart, making it a more effective pump. Exercise helps improve circulation and aids cooperation among the heart, arteries, and veins that cooperate to pump blood throughout the body.
Dietary habits play a crucial role in blood pressure control.
The meals we consume play a vital role in maintaining blood pressure control. A balanced diet that includes low-salt foods, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help lower and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Processed foods, skipping meals, excessive alcohol consumption, and a high-sodium diet can increase the risk of developing hypertension.
Quitting smoking can lower your blood pressure.
Smoking is injurious to health and can be particularly harmful to people dealing with high blood pressure. Nicotine in cigarettes increases blood pressure, making it challenging for people to manage their high blood pressure even while on medication. Quitting smoking or decreasing the number of cigarettes smoked daily can significantly contribute to healthy blood pressure levels.
Blood Pressure Medication Myths
Myth: Blood pressure medication is addictive.
Blood pressure medication is not addictive. Blood pressure medication is used to control high blood pressure levels, prevent organ damage, and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. On the contrary, adherence to medication and timely refills at the pharmacy is essential to prevent complications in people with high blood pressure.
Myth: Blood pressure medication is expensive.
Blood pressure medication is available in several brands and generic formulations, and many of these are inexpensive. Most insurance companies and healthcare plans offer coverage for hypertension medication, and there are government programs that offer free or low-cost medications for people in need.
Myth: Blood pressure medication leads to side effects.
Like any medication, blood pressure medication can cause side effects in some individuals. It’s important to note that not everyone who takes blood pressure medication will face side effects. If you do experience side effects, you must discuss this with your doctor, who can help adjust the dose or prescribe alternative medication.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Which type of blood pressure reading is more critical, systolic or diastolic? Both systolic and diastolic readings are important. However, a diastolic reading of 90 mm Hg or above generally signals hypertension.
- Is hypertension related to stress or headaches? Stress and tension headaches are not directly related to blood pressure. However, stress management techniques or medications can help manage blood pressure in some individuals.
- Can a change in diet alone reduce blood pressure? Yes, a change in diet, coupled with weight management, can bring remarkable improvements in blood pressure levels.
- Can hypertension lead to heart disease or stroke? Yes, hypertension can damage the arteries that supply to the heart and brain, increasing the risk of heart disease or stroke. Timely interventions and controlling hypertension can lower this risk.
- How does family history of hypertension influence my risk of developing the condition? Family history of hypertension places an individual at a higher risk of developing the condition. Regular check-ups and prompt medical interventions become crucial in such scenarios.
Finally, hypertension is a complex medical condition, and it requires management and appropriate interventions. Prompt medical attention and regular blood pressure monitoring can help manage hypertension and reduce the risk of related complications.
- Aronow, W. S. (2017). Hypertension guidelines. Hypertension Research, 40(7), 573–575. https://doi.org/10.1038/hr.2017.48
- Balakumar, P., Maung-U, K., Krishan, P., & Singh, M. (2016). Possible molecular targets of garlic for hypertension management. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 64(21), 4435–4446. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.6b01217
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, May 07). Hypertension (High Blood Pressure). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410
- National High Blood Pressure Education Program. (2004). The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. NIH Publication No. 04-5230.