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Blood Pressure: What It Is, Why It's Important, and How to Control It

by Kenny Ryan

August 2023

High blood pressure does not cause pain or other symptoms and too often goes unnoticed until something serious happens. This is why doctors measure it repeatedly in patients, even those with a previously normal pressure. When blood pressure is too high, a condition called hypertension, it becomes even more of a focus because it contributes to some of the most common causes of death in North Dakota, most notably stroke and heart attacks. It can also contribute to the development of more chronic conditions such as kidney disease and even some forms of dementia.

Understanding how high blood pressure causes damage starts with comparing how blood pressure is like water pressure in a hose. Similar to how a hose experiences the pressure of water running through it, moving blood vessels feel the pressure of blood running through them. Just like high water pressure in a water hose can cause problems, excessive pressure in our blood vessels can damage them and eventually cause problems such as stroke or heart attack.

Several factors can increase the chances of a person developing high blood pressure. Coming as a surprise to some, diets high in salt are a top risk factor. Another risk factor is a person's weight. As an individual's weight decreases, the amount of force the heart needs to send blood throughout the body also decreases. For someone who has high blood pressure, reaching a healthy weight can be a great step towards normalizing that pressure. Even losing as little as 10 pounds can decrease blood pressure in someone with hypertension.

One method of achieving both lower blood pressure and weight loss is through using the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, also known as the DASH diet. The diet, specially formulated to help someone lose weight in a way that also helps to lower blood pressure, is free and can be found online, at libraries, and in some doctors' offices. Experts note that it also works best when combined with exercise.

In addition to weight loss and eating a low salt diet, doctors may prescribe medications that work on the body's blood pressure regulation systems. These pills can work well by themselves, but physicians also know that they work best when used with proper diet and exercise.

Proper management of a person's blood pressure can help decrease chances of heart attacks and stroke. With appropriate diet and exercise, better blood pressure control can be a reality. Remember, while having high blood pressure does not cause any pain currently, it can certainly lead to "pain" in the future. So, keep it down. Your future self will thank you.

This article also appeared in the August 30, 2023 issue of the Walsh County Press.

About the Author

Kenny Ryan is a fourth-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. As a participant in patient care experiences offered in Grafton, Kenny chose to participate in the Targeted Rural Health Education program, or TRHE. The program focuses on teaching student doctors the importance of rural newspapers as a way to share health information with rural community members. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.