High Blood Pressure
December 8, 2004 11:23 PM   Subscribe

I just found out my blood pressure is 160/100, and i'm only 21. I'm really scared, and I was told to stop putting salt on the foods I eat. Problem is, I don't add salt to things. I quit smoking today and I have been lapsing in my excersize but now I am out of excuses. Is this enough to reduce my blood pressure to a healthy level?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Probably not, especially if you're overweight. Start looking into some higher-impact exercise. (My family tends towards high blood pressure, but rock climbing three times a week has apparently kept my blood vessels so roto-rooted out that my blood pressure is actually *low* and I have to watch myself in some situations.)
posted by SpecialK at 11:48 PM on December 8, 2004

Only a doctor can tell you what is enough - but I do know that blood pressure can fluctuate rather a lot in different situations. Did they just take one measurement at the office, or have you been monitoring it on a regular basis? There are some negative side effects to blood pressure meds, so I'd suggest a second opinion and/or careful monitoring before deciding you truly do have a problem with it being high all the time.
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:49 PM on December 8, 2004

It will help. Here are a few things that made mine go down.

1. Medication. You are high enough that you will probably need it. BUT don't worry about being on it for the rest of your life. Once you address the other risk factors, you can eventually reduce and perhaps eliminate it.

2. Lose weight. This is a HUGE factor in reducing blood pressure. Even a small amount can make a difference. Which leads to...

3. Eat healthier. Basically, cook your own food. Prepared/boxed/canned food is extremely sodium rich. By cooking your own food, you can control the ingredients. The DASH diet is the recommended plan.

4. Reduce stress. Learn stress reduction techniques and identify things that

5. Stop smoking and exercise. You got those down, but I'll emphasize low-impact mild aerobic excercise (walking). You don't want to head out and lift a bunch of weight or push too hard since it will spike your BP.

6. Buy a good BP cuff and learn how to use it. Keeping track of your BP and taking it to your physician is helpful to see if you are consistently high or have 'white coat hypertension'.

7. Avoid decongestants. They are dangerous for people with hypertension, Use something like Claritin or CoricidinHBP if need be.

Most of all, DON'T IGNORE IT. It is called the "Silent Killer" for a reason. Youi won't feel much different if at all but you need to address the situation honestly. Learn from my mistakes.

Feel free to email me (profile) if you want to talk in more detail.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 11:50 PM on December 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

Whoops, Number 4 should be:

4. Reduce stress. Learn stress reduction techniques and identify things that make you anxious. By avoiding these situations, you can help moderate your pressure.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 11:55 PM on December 8, 2004

Yeah, quitting smoking is a good start. As a non-smoker my blood pressure is ~90/60, and as a smoker it was 110/90. I know, both are "low" (it runs in my family) but smoking made the 20 point difference.

Were you stressed out when they took your pressure? That could have something to do with it. Even if you were horsing around at Target it could get that high.

And, what the others said. Eat better, lose some weight, chill out...
posted by frecklefaerie at 12:21 AM on December 9, 2004

Most processed foods are stuffed with crap like salt and sugar. Even if you aren't adding salt to your food, you are probably eating far too much salt if you eat a lot of processed food. The only way to really know what you're eating is to buy the base ingedients and cook for yourself.
posted by salmacis at 1:30 AM on December 9, 2004

If you 'just quit smoking today' give it a couple of days and check again.
posted by kamylyon at 2:54 AM on December 9, 2004

As a physician, I second what ooOOoo said, except perhaps the part about not requiring lifelong medication (see last paragraph below).

High blood pressure is usually not diagnosed or confirmed until two separate readings over 140/90 have been documented. Readings between 120/80-140/90 are not considered normal, but are "borderline". A low salt diet, weight loss, smoking cessation, and regular exercise (at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day) will go a long way toward lowering your blood pressure. However, how much will be sufficient in your case to lower your pressure to around 120/80 is difficult to say, as each person is different. Give the above measures some time to work, then return to your doctor for another check. Measuring your pressure at home can't hurt either.

Lifelong medication may still be required however. If your pressure is still over 140/90 after several months despite all the above measures, it's worthwhile to begin medication, considering the devastating long-term effects of elevated blood pressure, including very real risks of heart attack and stroke. Stroke can cause you to lose the ability to speak normally or lose the use of an arm or leg.
posted by cahlers at 4:38 AM on December 9, 2004

... what cahlers said. If you do measure at home..or at one of the free machines that are found in some pharmacy outlets, stay consistent with your measuring method/machine and keep a record. All sphygnomanometers vary slightly.

Some people aren't considered salt-sensitive when it comes to blood pressure, but most people aren't aware of the sodium levels in their foods. Read some labels; stop eating fast food.

If you use cocaine (or other recreational stimulants), stop NOW.
posted by reflecked at 5:01 AM on December 9, 2004

The good news is that the bad effects of hypertension - stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, blindness - almost never occur before age 40. (Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure.)

This doesn't mean that you can ignore the problem, because the damage is occurring now, and it is cumulative. It does mean that you have a good long time to get a handle on the problem and get it under control before permanent damage is done.

In a way, finding out that your BP is too high at age 21 is a blessing, not a curse. Look at it this way: would you have preferred it to be high and not know about it? Certainly not.

Further good news is that high blood pressure is one of the easiest and most treatable things around. The latest and greatest medicines are quite effective, are proven to prevent the bad effects of high blood pressure, and with all the choices out there, you and your doctor can likely find one that works for you without bad side effects.

So don't worry!
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:11 AM on December 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

You don't mention whether your high blood pressure is from a one-time reading or whether this is an ongoing trend with you. If it's a one-time reading, your doctor will almost definitely want to monitor your BP over a 24-hour period to determine whether it is consistently high. If so, your blood pressure is high enough to warrant taking medication.

I was diagnosed with high blood pressure at 30, and I've been taking a beta blocker (400 mg Sectral) ever since - not including a brief stint on a diuretic which didn't do anything for me (of course, YMMV). My 24-hour average blood-pressure at the time of diagnosis was 145/95. At my last reading I was down to 110/60, and my doctor is talking about cutting my medication in half. I'm hoping someday I'll be able to come off of it entirely.

I haven't noticed many side effects on the beta blocker. Some people complain they make them tired, but I have about the same energy level as I normally did. I would like to see some evidence that the blood pressure medication is actually doing me some good, rather than just treating a symptom. I'm not entirely convinced that high blood pressure isn't a sign that something else is wrong, and that damage is still being done despite my stellar BP readings lately. If anyone can point me in the direction of any studies, I'd be very grateful.

Dietary changes apart from cutting out salt include cutting down on red meat and alcohol. Apparently alcohol intake affects BP quite dramatically.
posted by hazyjane at 6:11 AM on December 9, 2004

Before you give up on your food ever tasting good, I recommend reading up on the salt< ->BP correlation. According to some people (I don't know how reliable), no more than 8% of the population's blood pressure will respond to changes in the amount of salt in their food. There's a long essay about it in Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything
posted by jeb at 7:02 AM on December 9, 2004

Get your doctor to refer you to a nutritionist, because "stop salting your food" is not exactly useful guidance.

A friend of mine just went through this, including a trip to the emergency room a couple of weeks after diagnosis. And while she has got unavoidable stress through the roof, between the meds and the dietary plan the improvement has been dramatic in just a few weeks. Her insurance covered several visits with the dietician.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:06 AM on December 9, 2004

Also, anonymous, at your age your doctor should ask you to undergo a few tests to make sure that your blood pressure isn't a secondary condition caused by some other problem. I had to have my kidney arteries checked, for example. I hope you're going to go see a cardiologist and not just an HMO-enslaved GP who doesn't want to check you out properly? If the only advice you got was "no salting your food" and no suggestion of follow-up, there's some quality of care there that's lacking.
posted by hazyjane at 7:39 AM on December 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

hazyjane, the vast majority of the time no cause can be found for the hypertension (high blood pressure). This is known as "essential hypertension" in medical circles. Hypertension is generally not necessarily thought to be a sign that something else is wrong, unless the pressure is very high, or resistant to medication, in which case a person in such a situation might suffer from a narrowing of the arteries feeding the kidneys, a condition called "renal artery stenosis". Kidneys play an essential role in regulating blood pressure. However, renal artery stenosis is quite rare, and again, 80-90% of the time the cause for hypertension is not found.

The evidence that the BP medication is helping you is that your pressure came down. This means your body (blood vessels) are no longer exposed to the detrimental effects of the high pressure, and therefore you are not at risk for the long-term side-effects mentioned by ikkyu2.
posted by cahlers at 8:55 AM on December 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

Did this happen at some sort of university health clinic? At my school (UIUC) the health services have a dubious reputation, to say the least.

I went in one time for a problem with my eye, and they tried to take my blood pressure. I say tried because it took them 4 tries to get it right (mumbling something the first three times about how I should be dead). They finally accepted that I had a slightly higher than average.

Like other people said, one reading could does not a trend establish. Around here, a lot of places has those large self test machines in the stores, and IIRC most of them are free. It couldn't hurt.
posted by sbutler at 3:52 PM on December 9, 2004

Having a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure.
posted by cahlers at 4:13 PM on December 9, 2004

Main thing: Don't freak out. You've received some excellent advice in this thread so far. I am not a physician, but I am a person with (so far, well-managed) hypertension, and the advice in this thread mirrors what I've been hearing from my MD.

Remember that high blood pressure tends to take decades to wreak any truly nefarious damage and you're young enough to get this under control in time.

Congratulations on quitting smoking. Very smart move. Don't ever pick up another cigarette!

Now, from here on out: Watch what you eat, and exercise. You don't have to turn into an obsessive gym rat, but walking (for example) is excellent exercise and you should try to get at least half an hour's good exercise (something that brings your heart rate up and makes you break a sweat) every day. More is better. Nothing wrong with starting out slow and building up.

High blood pressure runs in my family. I was able to reduce my BP considerably through diet and exercise, but ultimately not enough, so I take a relatively low dose of a beta blocker every day, which I tolerate just fine, and that plus watching what I eat and exercising regularly keeps my BP in a normal range.

The American Heart Association Cookbook is a terrific resource.

The suggestion to get a home BP cuff is great advice. Measure your BP at many different times of day, and bring the results to your MD appointments. Your doc will love you for it.

Also, cahlers' suggestion about getting a pet is excellent. Getting a dog would definitely help with the daily walking regimen (dogs must be walked every single day, rain or shine), but just generally when you're petting or playing with a dog or holding a purring cat, you can feel yourself relax... got to be good for the BP, and it's great mental-health-wise too.
posted by enrevanche at 8:01 PM on December 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

Radically decrease:
- your weight
- your anxiety/stress.

Swim laps.

(these were tips from my doc)
posted by ruelle at 11:26 PM on December 9, 2004

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