By MEG JORDAN, professor and chair of the Integrative Health Studies Department. She is a clinical medical anthropologist, behavioral health RN, author, and international lecturer.
I was always in the camp that considered the less medical intervention, the better, especially when it came to blood pressure readings that were a little above the ideal. It was easy to accuse Big Pharma of simply pulling off one more marketing ploy to get millions more on anti-hypertensive drugs when new recommendations came out to consider treatment for "prehypertension."
Hypertension (same thing as high blood pressure) is diagnosed when the pressure across the arterial walls increases beyond an optimal level. This number has increased over the past decade as research indicated that pre-hypertensive levels would benefit from earlier pharmaceutical management. Before the mid-1990s, a blood pressure of 140/90 was considered on the high end of normal, but not worthy of drug treatment.
Normal is 120/80. Prehypertension is a systolic of 120-139, and a diastolic between 80-89. But it's hard to argue with a well-conducted study by the CDC that is reporting a rise in strokes, especially in the under-50 age groups and in children.
In addition, a University of California, San Diego, study looked at over one-half million records, and concluded that individuals with this slightly higher reading (prehypertensives) had a significantly higher risk of strokes—by almost 50 percent. That is troubling indeed. For most folks walking around with a blood pressure of 139/89, they have no idea that their pressure is high. No obvious symptoms send you running for a check-up or blood pressure reading.
What causes high blood pressure? Any number of risk factors have been implicated, from physical inactivity, metabolic syndrome, obesity/overweight, kidney disease, family history, advanced age, to one of the more serious risk factors—smoking. Some of these risk factors such as obesity make the heart work harder, pumping circulation around more miles of adipose and body mass. A build of plaque in the coronary arteries is blamed for narrowing the pipes, also increasing pressure. Cigarette smoking is implicated with arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arterial walls. As the wall become less flexible, the pressure builds up.
Another cause of high blood pressure is compromised kidney function, resulting in a retention of fluid and mineral or electrolyte imbalance. With more fluid in the circulatory system (less urine output), the pressure also increases.
Reduction of high blood pressure is critical in order to prevent the debilitating consequences caused by chronic pressure to arteries, capillary beds, and surrounding tissues. Chronic hypertension can damage the arterial system in the retina area causing loss of vision, or it can lead to damage in the kidneys. The most serious consequences of hypertension are heart attack and stroke.
Most cases of hypertension build gradually over time as readings become progressively higher, but not all. Intermittent hypertension reveals itself as occasional spikes in blood pressure, causing emotional unsteadiness, headaches, and insomnia. In these cases, doctors look for psychological problems that could aggravate an organic cause of hypertension, but root causes are difficult to pinpoint. A combination of drug treatment with lifestyle management is the preferred course of action by most integrative practitioners and medical doctors. This prudent course can be supplemented by complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches listed below.
Always talk to your doctor about the safest, most effective way for you to manage hypertension. And if you suspect that your blood pressure is increasing, get it checked as soon as possible. There are free checks at most drug stores.
Customary drug treatment includes:
• Beta blockers (which decrease the force and rate of the heart beat)
• Calcium channel blockers (which prevent muscular restriction of arterial walls)
• ACE inhibitors (which also relax arterial walls, creating a wider pipe effect)
• Diuretics (which work to relieve excess fluid in the circulatory system)
Lifestyle management approaches include:
• Decreasing your reactivity to stressful events
• Enhancing skills for optimism and positivity
• Practicing meditation or guided imagery on a daily basis
• Daily exercise, especially outdoors, for at least 30 minutes per session
• Losing weight if you're carrying too many pounds and maintaining a healthy weight
• Stop smoking immediately
• Dietary management: less salt, alcohol, and an investigation of food sensitivities
• Developing and following an overall wellness plan, working with an Integrative Wellness or Health Coach.
CAM Supplemental natural approaches include:
• eating celery (unless salt intake must be limited)
• magnesium supplements
• hawthorne berry dietary supplements
• passionflower, chamomile, valerian relaxing herbal teas
• omega-3 fatty acids
• proteolytic enzymes
• Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture sessions