Over 120/80

Photo by Flickr user MeddyGarnet/used under Creative Commons license

It can kill you. Or it can just make you blind or demented. It can damage major organs like your heart and kidneys and blood vessels, causing them to fail. It can give you an aneurysm, where the wall of a blood vessel thins, pouches out, and bursts. It can give you a stroke that can maim you or even end your life.

While it shares the moniker “The Silent Killer” with diabetes and carbon monoxide, high blood pressure is serious stuff. A lot of people perceive it as no big deal, though. Symptoms are rare, and you can just pop a pill or two, and you’re all better, right?

Wrong. If untreated, it can lead to bad things. Untreated hypertension is rampant. Between one in four and one in three of us Americans have it, and a third of those are unaware. Of the ones who know, many fail to make the major lifestyle changes recommended.

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It’s much more common in kids than people realize. Two million youngsters in this country who have it, mostly due to high obesity rates from decreased activity and increased consumption of processed and fatty foods. It’s higher in people of middle age and beyond. African-Americans experience it at higher rates than Caucasians and Hispanics.

High blood pressure is when — for reasons known or unknown — the blood continually pushes against the walls of your arteries much harder than it has to. The systolic pressure or first number of a blood pressure reading is when the heart is pumping blood through the vessels, and if that is over 120 it is too high. The diastolic pressure, or second number, is when the heart is at rest between beats, and if it is over 80 it is too high.

You may have to pop two, three or even four pills in a combination of medications to keep the illness at bay. Diuretics make you pee more, decreasing the total hydration level of your body and thereby your blood volume. ACE inhibitors and ARB blockers block formation or action of a chemical that constricts your blood vessels. Beta-blockers slow the heart and prevent your body from creating adrenaline, the stress hormone that constricts blood vessels. Calcium channel blockers relax the blood vessel muscles, and renin inhibitors affect an enzyme that kidneys produce to increase blood pressure. Several other types of medications, like alpha and alpha-beta blockers, can be used as central acting agents and vasodilators.

“Natural” remedies have been used on hypertension with a variety of success. I can’t vouch for the efficacy of any them here, but things people have tried include garlic, CoQ10, blond psyllium, hawthorn, coleus and the reishi mushroom. Helpful nutritional supplements recommended by many experts include Vitamin D, magnesium, potassium, calcium, cod liver oil, folic acid, alpha-linolenic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.

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