One in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over time, high blood pressure can cause your arteries to harden, known as atherosclerosis, which can contribute to heart attack, stroke, or other injuries. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer” because it may be causing damage to your health without presenting any symptoms. This makes it critical to be proactive when it comes to your heart health; know your numbers and what is considered healthy and unhealthy.
While being under the care of a cardiologist and regularly seeing your primary care provider is the best way to deal with high blood pressure, you can proactively lower blood pressure naturally with lifestyle changes.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is where too much force pushes against the walls of your arteries. In order for your body to function properly, it needs a constant supply of oxygenated blood from the circulatory system. When hypertension occurs, it can cause damage to the arteries, veins, and capillaries and constrict blood flow to the heart as well as other parts of your body.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors contribute to the development of high blood pressure. You may have multiple factors for having high blood pressure, but lifestyle factors are ones you can control. Talking to your healthcare provider about your genetic risk, going to regular checkups, and getting a diagnosis is critical for your health.
Signs of High Blood Pressure
While people with high blood pressure may have symptoms, such as blood spots in the eyes, facial flushing, and dizziness, the disease more often does not have any symptoms. Because high blood pressure is a silent killer without symptoms, you need to have regular physical checkups with your healthcare provider. Catching this disease early can save your life.
How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?
Your healthcare practitioner will measure your blood pressure using a blood pressure cuff. The cuff attaches to a sphygmomanometer, an electronic blood pressure reading device. The blood pressure cuff compresses to squeeze your arm and releases pressure on the artery in your arm to measure your heart’s highest pressure when it beats (systolic pressure) and the lowest pressure when your heart relaxes (diastolic pressure). Additional tests your healthcare provider may order include:
Your healthcare provider may have you use a 24-hour blood pressure device to measure your blood pressure at intervals over 24 hours. The ambulatory monitoring device provides a more detailed picture of blood pressure. These devices may not meet the criteria for insurance reimbursement.
Your healthcare provider may order a urine test (urinalysis) and blood tests, including a cholesterol test.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
An echocardiogram is a tool that uses sound waves to show pictures of your heart.
Treatment for High Blood Pressure
Treating high blood pressure often involves medicine your healthcare provider prescribes. Some medications your healthcare provider may prescribe are diuretics to eliminate sodium and water from your body. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to relax the arteries in your body, such as calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and angiotensin II, or receptor blockers (ARBs). Your healthcare provider may also recommend lifestyle changes to help combat your high blood pressure.
Natural Ways to Help Your Blood Pressure
Your healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure naturally. However, lifestyle changes alone cannot lower your blood pressure. Take your medication as your healthcare provider directs. Seek your healthcare provider’s advice before making any changes to your diet, lifestyle, or medication. Some lifestyle changes your healthcare provider may suggest include:
1. Eat Less Salt
According to the Centers for Disease Control, research shows a strong relationship between salt intake and high blood pressure. When people reduce them, their blood pressure starts to fall.
2. Consume More Potassium
Foods rich in potassium are important in managing high blood pressure. Potassium helps lessen the effects of sodium. If you eat foods rich in potassium, you will excrete more sodium when you urinate. Potassium lowers blood pressure naturally by easing tension in your blood vessel walls. Don’t, however, take potassium supplements unless directed to do so by your healthcare provider. Instead, eat potassium-rich foods such as apricots and apricot juice, avocados, greens, and lima beans.
3. Adopt the DASH Diet
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The diet is based on research studies from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). They showed the DASH diet lowers high blood pressure and reduces your risk of getting heart disease. The DASH diet emphasizes foods such as:
- Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Lean cuts of poultry
- Vegetable oils
The DASH diet limits foods high in saturated fat, including fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. People on the DASH diet also should limit sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and sweets. Lowering your intake of sweets can also help naturally lower blood pressure.
5. Lose Weight
Losing even just 5 pounds can lower your blood pressure. The more weight you lose, the more your blood pressure can drop. With weight loss, you may be able to reduce your dose of blood pressure medication or stop taking blood pressure medication. Talk to your health care provider before stopping any medication. Remember, high blood pressure is a silent killer, and even if you feel well, you can still be at risk for serious medical consequences.
6. Limit Alcohol Use
How alcohol affects different people depends on their genetic profile. However, for people diagnosed with high blood pressure, drinking alcohol can be deadly. Having more than two drinks in a day may raise a hypertensive person’s blood pressure. Drinking more than one or two drinks in a sitting can lead to a rapid rise in blood pressure. For someone with high levels of hypertension, this can lead to stroke. If you want naturally lower blood pressure, decrease your intake of alcohol.
7. Don’t Smoke
The nicotine in cigarette smoke raises your blood pressure and heart rate, making naturally lower blood pressure difficult. This toxin from smoking narrows your arteries and hardens their walls. Hard artery walls make your blood more likely to clot, and your blood pressure is higher because your heart has to work harder to pump against the clots and hardened artery walls.
8. Get Active
Physical activity is effective in reducing blood pressure. Exercise forces your blood vessels to inflate and contract, making them flexible. Doing regular physical activity also increases blood flow, which encourages new blood vessel creation. Dynamic resistance exercises such as biceps curls with weights can help you lower your blood pressure naturally if you exercise consistently. For any lifestyle changes, speak with your healthcare provider.
If you are in Connecticut and are looking for a doctor to guide you through this process, search PACT’s list of board-certified doctors near you.