The number of people suffering from hypertension is growing at an alarming rate. There are currently thought to be as many as ten million Britons suffering from the condition. One of the main culprits is our increasingly sedentary lifestyles including a lack of exercise, smoking, stress, and poor diet (typically high in sugar and saturated fats), which goes hand in hand with another risk factor, obesity.
So what exactly is high blood pressure? The blood circulating in your body exerts a certain force on the walls of your arteries, veins and your heart chambers. If this force increases, then your blood pressure increases and overtime this can trigger the formation of plaque in your arteries (arteriosclerosis). As your arteries become blocked you're put at risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
High blood pressure doesn't always cause any symptoms and you may not even realize that you have a problem until it starts to affects the state of your arteries. Early warning signs include dizziness, general weakness, nose bleeds and headaches.
Obviously, in order to avoid these problems, it makes sense to take steps to control your blood pressure and keep it within certain safe limits. While factors like age and gender should be taken into account when determining these limits, in general a blood pressure reading that is higher than 140/90 mHg is considered high and in need of treatment.
In the vast majority of cases no actual cause can be found. This is termed essential hypertension. In fact only 5 per cent of hypertension cases are linked to a specific cause, such as kidney disease, which require specific treatment.
Conventional drugs help lower your blood pressure, but at what price?
Following a diagnosis of high blood pressure (usually after it has been found to be high on three separate occasions), your doctor will probably prescribe an anti-hypertensive drug.
There are a number of drugs that fall under this category. They include beta blockers, which lower your heart rate; vasodilators (such as calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors), which widen your blood vessels; and diuretics (water tablets), which reduce the volume of your blood by removing water from your body.
Unfortunately these drugs all come with unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects, ranging from muscle aches, fatigue and nausea to breathing difficulties, impotence and heart failure.
Possible link between painkillers and hypertension
US news website ABC recently covered a study published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Hypertension. We'll take a quick look at the study and then get back to ABC in a moment.
A team from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) at Harvard University (US) analyzed data from the first and second Nurses' Health Studies. Using information from questionnaires, the researchers gathered data on hypertension and painkiller use in more than 5,000 women, ages 51-77 in the first study and ages 34-53 in the second study. None of the women had hypertension at the outset of either study.
Results showed that aspirin intake had no association with the development of hypertension. But other painkillers didn't fare as well:
* Women in the older age group who used an average of 400 mg of ibuprofen per day had an 80 percent increased risk of hypertension compared to women who didn't use ibuprofen.
* Women in the younger group who used 400 mg of ibuprofen per day had a 60 percent increased risk of hypertension
* Women in either group who took an average of 500 mg or more of acetaminophen daily were twice as likely to develop hypertension compared to women who didn't use the drug
In the published study, the authors write: "Because acetaminophen (paracetamol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used, they may contribute to the high prevalence of hypertension in the United States."
Complementary treatments have an extremely high success rate in the fight against hypertension.
Despite the fact that hypertension can often be successfully controlled using a drug-free approach, a recent study found that only 5 per cent of patients with high blood pressure were aware of the usefulness of complementary treatments for the condition. The study also found that the majority of patients, up to 94 percent who did use complementary treatments experienced a significant drop in their blood pressure levels (Yeh GY, Davis RB, Phillips RS. Am J Cardiol. 2006 Sep 1;98(5):673-80).
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