Written by Jeff Smith
Did you know that 58% of adults age 55+ are being treated for high blood pressure (Hypertension)? It is by far the most common chronic condition amongst seniors in the United States. It is also one of the most dangerous.
Why? Because several of the top 10 leading causes of death for seniors are directly related to uncontrolled high blood pressure. Issues like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vision loss, CAD, and PAD are all directly related to high blood pressure/ hypertension. The good news is that high blood pressure is controllable, and your risk of developing these serious conditions can be reduced drastically by lowering your blood pressure with some simple lifestyle changes.
Dangerous Diseases Related to High Blood Pressure
Heart disease can include problems like heart failure, heart arrhythmia, and heart attack, and is defined by the heart beating ineffectively, causing impaired circulation. How is heart disease related to high blood pressure? Essentially, the higher your blood pressure is, the harder your heart has to work to effectively pump blood throughout your body. Sustained high blood pressure puts your heart through such significant pressure that it often begins presenting symptoms that are irreversible if ignored. More Americans, specifically seniors, die from heart disease and related symptoms every year than any other cause of death.
Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death for seniors in America. However, controlling hypertension can help you to avoid having a stroke. High blood pressure damages the arteries throughout the entire body, not just the heart. The constant force being placed on your circulatory system eventually creates conditions where your arteries can easily burst or clog. Weakened arteries in the brain - one of your bodies highest blood density organs - clog more easily than in many other areas of the body, which can result in stroke.
Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death among seniors, affecting 18% of all American seniors. This condition also goes hand-in-hand with elevated blood pressure levels. Your circulatory system and kidneys rely on one another for overall health. Your kidneys are surrounded with a dense network of blood vessels. These blood vessels supply your kidneys with a continuous flow of blood both in - for filtration - and out, to return to general body circulation. Arteries damaged by high blood pressure cause the kidneys to have greatly, or completely diminished filtration ability. This can lead to your body having serious issues regulating fluid, hormones, acids, and salts in your blood. Healthy kidneys also produce a hormone called aldosterone that allows your body to naturally regulate blood pressure. Damaged kidneys have more issues producing this hormone, and thus more issues regulating blood pressure, and unregulated blood pressure causes more damage to the kidneys, resulting in a vicious cycle that is difficult to counteract.
High blood pressure can also lead to vision loss, which affects a large group of the senior population. Retinopathy, or blood vessel damage in the eye, is caused by hypertension. It can lead to blurred vision or complete loss of sight. High blood pressure also leads to Choroidopathy which is fluid buildup under the retina. Because the retina is so sensitive to outside factors, this fluid build-up often leads to distorted vision, or in some cases scarring that permanently impairs vision. Optic Neuropathy is the most dangerous of the vision issues caused by high blood pressure. It is the result of blocked blood flow to the optic nerve which can cause severe damage or kill nerve cells in your eyes. If this damage goes unchecked it will often lead to temporary or permanent blindness.
Peripheral Artery Disease
PAD or Peripheral Artery Disease is very similar to another issue caused by high blood pressure, CAD or Coronary Artery Disease. While CAD is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the blood vessels in and around the heart, PAD is caused by fat and cholesterol buildup due to weakened arteries. Most people who have PAD experience cramping, pain, and tenderness in their lower body when physically exerting themselves , including walking or going up the stairs. The pain experienced from PAD is typically limited to times of physical exertion, and quickly disappears when your body is at rest. Many people try to “tough out” the symptoms involved with PAD since they are painful but rarely debilitating. Unfortunately, PAD is commonly undiagnosed by healthcare professionals since it is typically an afterthought. If PAD remains unchecked for too long it can lead to possible gangrene and amputation of extremities, although these symptoms typically only present in very extreme cases. People with PAD have a higher chance of developing CAD, heart disease, and stroke; which are all risk factors that are only made worse by high blood pressure.
Preventing and Reversing High Blood Pressure
So what can you do to avoid these 6 dangerous diseases related to hypertension? Lower your blood pressure by eating a heart-healthy diet. This is one of the most common and easiest ways to lower high blood pressure, and increase heart health and general wellness. Most people over-complicate how simple it can actually be to eat heart healthy. The most important factor by far is lowering your sodium intake. Practice reading labels during your shopping trips and you’ll start to notice a high sodium trend, even in unexpected products. The average American intakes 3,400 mg of sodium daily - the FDA suggests that individuals take in 2,300 mg maximum in a day. Just to put that into perspective, one Big Mac contains 1,007 mg of sodium, and that’s not including fries, condiments, and a drink. Beyond cutting down drastically on sodium intake, avoiding sweets and sugars is an easy step to take.
There are a wealth of tools available to accurately track your diet, one of the most popular being MyFitnessPal. It can be eye opening to track your diet exhaustively, most people aren’t aware of just what their daily food and beverage intake actually break down into.
- Fruits (NOT fruit juice)
- Chicken, Turkey, & Fish
- Nuts and Legumes
- Natural Oils (Olive, Coconut, Sesame) NOT vegetable oil or peanut oil
Do Not Eat (In Excess)
- Saturated Fats
- Fatty Red Meats
- Sweets and Soda/Alcohol
Diet and exercise are the closest you can come to a “magic solution” in relation to heart health. Once you get a heart healthy diet in place, it’s time to consider your activity levels. Exercise helps manage weight, improve your mood at a biological level, strengthen your heart, and even prevents and reverses hypertension. Two and a half hours of exercise per week is enough to lower your risk factor across the board for major diseases. Physical activity can include anything, even walking, as long as you are getting your body moving. You don’t have to hit the gym and pump iron, or run a marathon to see results, just get out and walk, park at the back of the parking lot, take the stairs, etc. These little activities add up faster than you would think.
Combining a sensible diet with consistent exercise will naturally lead to weight loss which further reduces your risk factor for high blood pressure. As an added bonus, you also reduce your risk of contracting type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, and increase your overall quality of life. High blood pressure can be easy to ignore because it’s a silent and slow killer. It is still a killer, however, and it’s a precursor to some of the deadliest diseases in modern America. The good news is, it is completely controllable! You have the power to avoid these diseases and complications by lowering your blood pressure with diet and exercise. Get started today!
If you or your loved one could use help preparing a heart healthy diet and getting active, consider bringing a qualified care provider into your home. American In-Home Care always refers qualified, screened, care providers that are compassionate and ready to help with services like meal preparation, diet monitoring, recording vital health data, and mobility assistance. Contact us at 1-844-505-0004 to schedule your free in-home consultation to discuss which care options are right for you and your family.