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Over half of all people aged between 35 and 64 in Germany have excessively high blood pressure, primarily men. The deceptive thing about the condition is that most sufferers are unaware of it, as high blood pressure generally doesn’t cause any discomfort. However, dizziness, headaches or prolonged nervousness can be the first signs. Many patients are quite capable of bringing their high blood pressure down to a normal level by themselves. It is often helpful to lose any extra weight, eat a balanced and low-salt diet and to reduce alcohol consumption. More exercise and stress reduction can also help to lower high blood pressure.
At what point is blood pressure considered to be too high?
Two numbers express your blood pressure; these are called its systolic and diastolic values. The first value, the systolic pressure, is always higher. It is measured when the heart contracts and forces the blood into the arteries. The second value, the diastolic pressure, is measured when the heart relaxes and the heart chambers are being refilled with blood. The ideal blood pressure is 120/80mm Hg (120 to 80 milligrams of mercury). Doctors talk about high blood pressure when several measurements over 140/90mm Hg have been recorded. It is then called hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure. However, a one-off measurement does not mean blood pressure treatment is required. This is because it is completely normal for blood pressure to fluctuate over the course of the day. For instance, nervousness when your blood pressure is being taken can cause it to increase temporarily. Your doctor will only diagnose high blood pressure when the values deviate from the norm over several measurements, both when resting and under stress, and on different days.
Hard work for the heart – and not without consequences
In most cases, increased blood pressure does not produce any symptoms initially. Those suffering from it often feel fit and alert. However, very high blood pressure can cause headaches, dizziness, reddening of the skin on the face and buzzing or ringing in the ears. If these symptoms occur frequently, then have yourself examined by your GP to find out the cause. The earlier you receive medical attention, the better. Permanently increased blood pressure puts a strain on the heart and places further pressure on the arteries. You are then susceptible to arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This increases the risk of a heart attack, heart disease, kidney disease and damage to the eyes. All these illnesses need to be treated by a doctor.
The cause is often unknown
With approximately 80-90% of patients, the cause of their high blood pressure remains a mystery. However, there are various factors which may encourage it to develop. In addition to genetic, these include age, gender, being overweight, lack of exercise, stress, consuming too much salt and drinking too much alcohol. For the remaining 10-20% of patients, another underlying disease such as kidney or heart disease is the cause. Depending on how high the blood pressure is and the patient’s medical history, it may be sufficient as an initial treatment to make dietary adjustments, exercise more and learn how to deal with stress better. In more serious cases it is always necessary to take medication as well. It may be possible through dietary adjustments to reduce the number of tablets but this should always be discussed with your GP.
What you can do if you are a sufferer
There is a lot you can do yourself to have a positive effect on, and reduce, your high blood pressure. Incidentally, these tips are the same recommendations as those for a balanced diet and therefore are relevant to healthy people as well.
- If you are overweight, a key step is to reduce your weight. The reason: as the pounds drop off, blood pressure may fall at the same time.
- Restrict your daily intake of salt to a maximum of 6g. You can do this by avoiding very salty foods such as tinned food, salty snacks, cured and smoked meat and fish products. Instead of adding too much salt to food, it’s better to season with herbs or spices.
- Eat a balanced diet with a small amount of high-quality fat, plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain products and two servings of fish per week, such as mackerel, herring or salmon. This not only has a positive effect on high blood pressure, but also on your weight and general health. The fish provides plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which also have a positive effect on blood vessels and your heart.
- Alcohol increases blood pressure. Men should drink no more than 20g of alcohol per day and women no more than 10g of alcohol – and preferably not every day. For example, a glass of white wine contains around 12g of alcohol and a glass of spirits around 6g.
- Regular physical exercise can supplement treatment. Walking, swimming, cross-country skiing, cycling at a normal speed and golf are all recommended.
- Take time out to relax. Techniques such as meditation or yoga might help
- Give up smoking. If you suffer from high blood pressure and also smoke, your risk of a heart attack increases.