The leading cause of stroke, high blood pressure also boosts the risk of heart disease. This notoriously stealthy condition has no early warning signs and (usually) causes no symptoms. Simple changes in daily habits can help combat high blood pressure and its scary risks.
Chances are, your blood pressure could already be higher than you think. One in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure (hypertension) and worldwide one billion people are affected. Risks increase as you get older, if you have a family history of high blood pressure, are overweight, don’t get enough exercise, smoke and use too much salt on your food. In addition, the lesser-known risks below could be making things worse.
Birth control pills usually boost blood pressure slightly, as do hormone or estrogen replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms. Other drug culprits include aspirin, ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers (they can cause fluid retention that boosts blood pressure). Decongestants in cough and cold medications can increase blood pressure or interfere with drugs to lower it. Migraine medications called triptans can be problematical, too, because they tighten blood vessels, and probably shouldn’t be used by people high with blood pressure. Appetite suppressants, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs, can also increase blood pressure.
This sweet stuff is in sodas, soups, and all kinds of processed foods. Research presented in 2009 showed that a daily diet containing 74 grams or more of HFCS (the amount in 2.5 sugary soft drinks) increased the risk of hypertension in people with no history of high blood pressure. In the study, consuming that much HFCS led to a 28 percent, 36 percent, and 87 percent higher risk for blood pressure levels of 135/85, 140/90, and 160/100 mmHg, respectively. (Normal pressure is below 120/80.)
Surprising, but true--exposure to traffic noise can increase the risk of high blood pressure by more than 25 percent. Swedish investigators analyzed 24,000 questionnaires from adults ranging in age from 18 to 80 who lived within earshot of loud engines, honking horns, and screeching brakes. The researchers found that the effect of traffic noise was riskiest for adults age 40 to 59, and the louder the noise, the higher the blood pressure: sounds of about 64 decibels (the point at which some states require noise barriers), increased the risk of hypertension by more than 90 percent. Study participants aged 60 to 80 were unaffected, perhaps because of age-related gradual hearing loss, the researchers suggested.
Some research suggests that cytomegalovirus (CMV), a herpes virus, may be a major cause of high blood pressure. Almost all adults have been exposed to CMV, which normally doesn’t cause trouble, except, possibly in people with compromised immune systems, and it can lead to birth defects in babies of women infected during pregnancy. Studies in mice suggest that CMV can increase inflammation in blood vessels leading to high blood pressure. If so, some cases of hypertension might be treated with antiviral drugs, and someday all of us might be protected by a vaccine (now in development).
Loud snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which you stop and start breathing while asleep. Another symptom: feeling tired after a full night’s sleep. With sleep apnea, the risk of high blood pressure can be two to three times higher than normal. The more severe the sleep apnea, the higher the hypertension risk rises.
It’s estimated that at least half of us get insufficient amounts of vitamin D. This shortfall has been associated with a long list of diseases including multiple sclerosis and some types of cancer. It is also linked with a higher risk of high blood pressure. This may be easily remedied by taking supplements of vitamin D. In April, a team of Danish researchers reported on a small study showing that supplements of “D” worked as well as drugs to reduce high blood pressure. More research is needed to confirm those results.
A few popular herbal remedies may not be so good for your blood pressure. If you already have hypertension, watch out for these: ginseng, St. John’s wort, bitter orange, and licorice root. And if you’re on medication to treat high blood pressure, make sure your doctor knows about any supplements you’re taking.
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