Most of us get up each day without realizing that we are constantly, and perhaps subconsciously, going through our day reducing the risks of getting injured or harmed. As a matter of habit we wear seat belts, drive on the right side of the road, stop at red lights, brush our teeth, and do other things with safety and good health in mind. These things prevent us from getting injured. Some of us go even further and limit our fast foods, fatty foods, sugar intake, exercise, and so forth.
But probably the most common health condition responsible for the most common cause of death, that goes unnoticed and undetected and escapes our attention for months and years, is hypertension (high blood pressure). They call it the “silent killer.”
I’ve shared with some patients my wish that there were an anatomical indicator in the middle of our forehead that would light up when we developed hypertension and alert us to the need for us to give it attention.
Once diagnosed, most people monitor their blood pressure to make sure their medication is working. However, a surprising number of people with the condition disrespect the long term complications it causes. Surveys continue to show that many people simple do not have their blood pressures taken unless they are forced by circumstances into a medical encounter, an ER visit for example.
The harmful effects caused by hypertension are many, including premature heart attacks, strokes before their time, kidney damage and failure, damage to eyes, blood clots, aneurysms (weak and enlarged arteries) that can rupture and cause sudden death. Franklin Roosevelt suffered from hypertension, unfortunately at a time when effective medication and treatment was lacking. It caused his stroke, a cerebral hemorrhage, and sudden death at age 63.
There’s an effective, simple and not very bothersome way you can monitor your blood pressure. You can do this at home and on your schedule. Purchase a digital blood pressure monitor. They’re inexpensive – most sell for $25 – 35. A simple one will do, preferably the arm band type (not the wrist type). You don’t need one with the bells and whistles, computer plug-in and other foo-foo features. A plain one is all you need. Then set your cell phone alarm (if you need a reminder) to what you know is a convenient time on one particular convenient day of the week – then take your blood pressure reading. Just once a week. That’s it. Get in the habit of doing it once a week, just as you are probably doing other things as a habit once a week. If it is under 140 on top, and 90 on the bottom, then go about your week. If is above these numbers, then begin taking it twice a week. If it becomes consistently high, or say about 1 out of 5 readings are elevated, then it probably needs attention.
If you start getting high numbers you may want to consider doing the following to lower it:
Reduce your salt intake; use Lite Salt, or no added salt at the table
Limit your intake of canned vegetables and packaged meats
Limit intake of fried foods, fast foods, beef, bacon, pork and ham
Walk regularly or engage in some type of non-stop exercise
Institute more minutes in the day or night when you are relaxing
Avoid energy drinks and limit your caffeine intake
If possible, lose a few pounds if you are overweight or obese (BMI over 30)
Moderate or limit your alcohol intake
If you're getting an oil and lube job on your car or truck every 3,000 miles, the very least you can do is give your body’s engine, your heart, the same attention you’re giving whatever’s under the hood. Hopefully, once you’re in the habit of checking your blood pressure each week you will have eliminated the deadly ambush factor of one health problem that if undetected has the certain potential to make you go the way of a great president.