February is Heart Month, and I’m sure we’ve all been hearing a lot about controlling two chronic conditions that, when left untreated, can lead to heart disease – high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Previous posts have focused on treating high cholesterol and high blood pressure with food. While it’s important to be aware of the many treatment options available to you (especially those that focus on diet and exercise in lieu of medication), it’s just as important to understand what causes these conditions in the first place.
High blood pressure is often known as the “silent killer,” because it has no symptoms, and some people learn that they have it only after they suffer a heart attack or stroke. Many other people, however, are lucky enough to be diagnosed with hypertension as part of a routine visit to their doctor’s office, allowing them to begin treatment before suffering long-term damage. No matter when a person gets diagnosed with hypertension, they probably ask, “why me?” In some cases, the cause of high blood pressure may be obvious – chronic stress, family history. But for many others, it’s a complete shock and mystery.
For some people, there is really no identifiable cause of hypertension. It can develop gradually as you age, creeping up slowly as the years go by. For others, an underlying medical condition or a medication being taken for another health issue are to blame. Hypertension can be caused by conditions as varied as kidney problems, tumors of the adrenal gland, or congenital blood vessel defects. It can also be caused by common medications such as oral contraceptives, cold medicine and decongestants, and over-the-counter pain relievers. In these cases, treating hypertension simply involves treating the condition or stopping the medication that caused it.
Other people develop what’s known as “white coat hypertension,” which stems from the nervousness that accompanies a visit to the doctor’s office. This form of hypertension often only appears at the start of a doctor’s appointment. Other variables that can temporarily raise blood pressure, some of which may come into play right before your blood pressure is checked, include eating, standing up from a seated position, talking, exercising, or watching an exciting tv show. In order to get the most accurate blood pressure reading, try to stay calm at the doctor’s office and refrain from performing any of the activities known to cause blood pressure to rise. Also be sure to talk with your doctor about any underlying conditions you may have or medications you take, as these could all be the culprits of your high blood pressure. Treating these issues is often a lot easier – on your body and wallet – than going on blood pressure medication.