High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a formidable enemy. Not only is it usually insidious—registering no physical symptoms unless it is severely high—it is pervasive. Nearly half of all adults in the United States currently have hypertension, and it is the leading cause of preventable death globally.
Why Blood Pressure Awareness Is Crucial
Unfortunately, years of uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause cumulative damage and lead to a deadly cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke. The good news is that awareness is key. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, you can monitor and modify your daily habits to keep your blood pressure under control. If you have not been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you can reduce your likelihood of ever developing this condition by staying informed about the following blood pressure threats.
If you smoke, the single most effective thing you can do to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease is to quit smoking. Tobacco contains nicotine, which is a stimulant; every time you smoke a cigarette, your blood pressure will transiently increase. Scientists believe that along with stiffening the heart’s arteries and leading to the development of arterial plaques, chronic smoking may also increase one’s lifetime risk of developing hypertension.
Whether derived from coffee, tea, or an energy drink, caffeine is a stimulant, and it can give your blood pressure a jolt. In fact, research has shown that for people with high blood pressure who do not regularly consume caffeine, coffee consumption can increase blood pressure up to 10 mmHg. However, these effects are largely transient, generally resolving after a couple of hours.
Chronic caffeine intake also increases blood pressure over the long term, but this effect is attenuated if the caffeine is ingested via coffee. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should discuss caffeine intake with your medical professional.
3. Excess Sodium
One of the body’s most important equilibriums is that between salt (sodium) and water. Your amazing metabolism is diligently working at every moment to maintain this delicate balance. When you eat salt, your body hangs on to more water (reabsorbing it in the kidneys instead of excreting it in the urine) so that the proper sodium-water concentration is maintained. However, the secondary effect of this water retention is that it increases the total volume of fluid in your cardiovascular system, thereby driving up your blood pressure. This effect on blood pressure may be why excessive salt intake has been associated with a higher risk of adverse cardiovascular events.
4. Lack of Sleep
Research has shown that a poor night of sleep can cause a blood pressure elevation that lingers into the following day. This may be one of the reasons why poor sleep and sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
It’s not just in your head; the time you spend white-knuckling through gridlocked traffic may be taking years off your life. Research has shown an association between commute distance and blood pressure: as one’s passive commute length increases, so does one’s likelihood of having high blood pressure, especially at commute distances of greater than 20 miles each way. Researchers suspect this may be due to a multitude of factors, including increased chronic stress from traffic, increased sitting time, decreased time left over for exercise, a worse diet, fatigue, poor sleep, and social isolation.
6. Over-the-Counter Medications
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, you should carefully review every medication in your medicine cabinet with your healthcare provider. Certain medications may seem innocuous because they are available over-the-counter; however, just because they are not prescribed does not mean they cannot negatively impact your blood pressure. A classic example of this can be found with over-the-counter decongestant medications that contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. Research has shown that common pain medications, such as naproxen or ibuprofen, can increase blood pressure as well.
How to Manage High Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, make sure you are in regular contact with your medical provider about the hypertension mitigating measures above, as well as the potential use of medications for hypertension. If your clinician has prescribed you an antihypertensive agent, make sure to use ScriptSave® WellRx to save up to 80% at the pharmacy.
Libby Pellegrini is a nationally certified physician assistant. She has worked in numerous healthcare settings, including the rural United States, an inner-city Level I trauma center, several suburban acute care centers, and a boutique, personalized medicine clinic in Southeast Asia. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.