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HEALTH MATTERS: High blood pressure — what you don’t know can kill you

Limuel Flowers is among the nearly 70 million American adults who have high blood pressure — equivalent to one out of every three adults.

What is high blood pressure? It is described as the physical force exerted by the blood as it pushes against the walls of the arteries. When blood pressure is elevated, the heart must work harder to pump blood, which in turn can cause damage to the arteries, the brain, eyes, lungs, kidneys and circulation.

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Most people can live for years unaware that they have high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension, a life-threatening disorder often known as the “silent killer.”

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with hundreds of organizations, wants us to know that heart disease is the world’s leading cause of death with more than 17 million worldwide deaths each year.

Flowers was diagnosed five years ago during his semiannual checkup. At 48, Flowers had no high blood pressure symptoms.

“A routine blood pressure test that we tend to take for granted, saved my life,” he said.  “I didn’t know my numbers, which turns out were on the high side.”

Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Pre-hypertension is between 120/80 and 139/89, and high blood pressure is 140/90 and higher.  (Courtesy of American Heart Association)
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Pre-hypertension is between 120/80 and 139/89, and high
blood pressure is 140/90 and higher.
(Courtesy of American Heart Association)

If it wasn’t for the results from his blood pressure test, which was 146/90, Flowers had no clue that he had high blood pressure. He didn’t have any of the typical symptoms, such as dizziness, shortness of breath, headaches, difficulty breathing or sleeping, blurred vision or nosebleeds.

Flowers attributes his high blood pressure to stress, an unhealthy diet, dehydration, living a sedentary lifestyle and a generational medical history of high blood pressure in both sets of grandparents, parents and siblings.

“I did moderately indulge in smoking cigars and drinking alcohol,” Flowers said. “However, I can literally count on one hand how often I did smoke or have a cocktail in previous years.”

Flowers no longer smokes or drinks.

Statistics show that “one out of every five people with high blood pressure isn’t aware that they are at risk.”

It is further documented that with people under 45 it is more likely to be men affected with high blood pressure; and with people over 65, it is more likely to affect women than men.

Surveys also show that “only about half the people with high blood pressure have their condition under control.”

To control high blood pressure, a combination of lifestyle changes along with medication is generally prescribed. Some of those medications are: beta blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers and calcium channel blockers.

Other remedies, including garlic, coenzyme Q10, calcium, magnesium, fish oil and flaxseed, have been known to lower blood pressure. In every case, consult your physician before trying any type of home or herbal remedies.

Flowers adjusted to the prescribed recommendations made by his doctor. However, in late 2015, he began to experience a great deal of stress.

“I had difficulty sleeping and breathing,” he said.  “It was painful to walk upstairs and any length of distance, my legs were swollen and I had joint and shoulder pains.”

He suffered for about four months.  In February, Flowers realized that the symptoms were not getting better and he checked into the hospital where he remained for 12 days. He had excessive fluid around his heart causing his blood pressure to shoot up to 158/82.   Flowers medication dosage was increased and additional meds were prescribed.

“My hospital stay definitely was a wakeup call,” he said.

Once released, Flowers was determined to change his lifestyle.

“I meditate, sing more often, walk daily, drink a lot of water and eat healthier,” Flowers said. As a result, Flowers has lost nearly 60 pounds since February.

“It was easy to choose life over snack foods, candy, cookies, chips and soda pop,” he said.

Graph courtesy of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Graph courtesy of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

One of the many alternatives to snacking and poor nutrition is the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Under the guidelines, DASH recommends patients to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, nuts and fish. Avoid red meat, saturated fats and sweets and reduce sodium intake.

“I am vigilant with taking my medication and sticking to positive lifestyle changes,” Flowers said. “Don’t wait until it is too late to know your numbers and adjust accordingly.”

More about Flowers can be found on LinkedIn or to hear him sing, go to his Facebook.

For more information about heart disease and high blood pressure, go to www.heart.org.

MarieLemelle2016

Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to healthmatters@wavepublication.com and look for her column in The Wave.