Can you die if you have high blood pressure?

Everybody has blood pressure. It simply means the force exerted by the blood beating against the artery walls. It can be high, low, or a wide range of normal. When it is high it can put a heavy strain on the heart and vessels.

Elevated blood pressure, generally called hypertension by doctors, is enormously common. But it is a silent killer; most people with the disease are unaware they are affected.

But if there are no symptoms, how do you know if you have it?

There is only one answer. Have the pressure checked by your doctor, who uses an apparatus called a sphygmomanometer. He simply winds an inflatable cuff around your arm and checks the pressure on the instrument. This is the only safe, reliable method and could help you to live a lot longer.

A few simple symptoms have been attributed to the complaint, such as dizziness, headaches, and palpitations (an awareness of the heart banging away in the chest). But these are not reliable guides, and often occur in normal people.

We’ve been hearing about high blood pressure for years. How dangerous is it really? Occasionally, a person may have blood pressure that is sky high, and live to a ripe old age. But this is the exception.

Today, we know high blood pressure is one of the well-documented causes of premature heart disease. People who die suddenly from no apparent cause often suffer from it, frequently without knowing it. Hypertension can also play a part in causing angina and heart failure. If there are other causes of an ailing heart, pumping blood through diseased arteries at a high pressure certainly will not help.

It’s like turning the tap pressure on full blast when you have a worn hose conveying the water to the other end. As we all know, sooner or later (often sooner) a weak spot yields.

And just as the water can suddenly spurt forth when a tiny hole or weak spot in the hose suddenly gives way under the high pressure, so it can happen in the body, particularly with vessels weakened by cholesterol deposits and hard plaques called atheroma. These spots yield far more readily if the pressure is also higher than normal.

The weak spot may be in the vessels of the heart, and the pressure can cause debris from the wall to break off and perhaps block a major heart artery. This is called a myocardial infarction.

Another major difficulty occurs when pressures affect weakened vessels in the brain, causing a sudden, unexpected cerebral hemorrhage. Urgent treatment is always required.

So it’s very important to see your doctor regularly for a check. It takes only a few minutes. Many people request this when attending for some unrelated medical problem. Most doctors are happy to perform this small extra check.

What is normal? Everybody wants to know. Today, most life insurance companies (the people who are interested most when you’re scheduled to die) have accumulated enormous statistics on blood pressure and longevity. Most now accept 135/85 on the sphygmomanometer as the upper limit of normal.

The upper figure, called the systolic pressure, occurs at the moment the heartbeats and ejects blood into the major arteries. The second, lower reading is the diastolic. This is the pressure between beats, when the heart is temporarily relaxing.

Today, doctors believe that most people need active treatment if their diastolic pressure exceeds 110. Younger patients, say those aged 40 years and under, may require active therapy with a diastolic pressure of 100, or even 95. The lower pressure is now considered to be the more important of the two.

In treatment, are there any simple measures? There most certainly are, and several cost nothing in terms of money. In today’s inflationary whirlwind, this is good value!

Stress can be a cause, so give expression to your emotions. Don’t bottle things up. This only aggravates pressures and makes high ones even higher.

Learn to relax, as doctors have been telling their patients for years. Peace of mind and mental equanimity assist, in a nice natural way. Avoid excessive fatigue. Get adequate rest.

If you are overweight, lose weight. This is probably the quickest and simplest way to reduce blood pressure significantly. It may not do the job completely, but is an excellent starting point for many; 40 percent of  Americans are overweight.

If you are a smoker, either drastically cut down on your daily consumption or stop.

Get adequate exercise. This helps the factors already mentioned. Each helps the other.

Women on the contraceptive Pill should have their pressure checked every six months. The Pill is well known for elevating pressures in a certain number of women. Some are advised to switch to alternative forms of birth control.

If all these fail to control your blood pressure satisfactorily, doctors now have access to extremely effective drugs. Enormous strides have been made in recent years, and treatment can usually be tailor-made to help everyone.

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