Dr. Marvin Lipman and the editors of Consumer Reports on Health have come out with a useful little book called The Best of Health: 275 Questions You’ve Always Wanted To Ask Your Doctor.
Let’s take a look at their Q&A page about high blood pressure, or hypertension – a common risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.
Over time, high blood pressure can damage our blood vessel walls, causing scarring that promotes the build-up of fatty plaque. This build-up can narrow and eventually block arteries. It also strains our heart and eventually weakens it. Very high blood pressure can even cause blood vessels in our brain to burst, resulting in a stroke.
Q: Does using a Jacuzzi or sauna raise blood pressure in people who already have hypertension?
A: No. In fact, high ambient temperature typically causes blood pressure to drop as blood vessels dilate in order to keep body temperature constant. That drop in blood pressure can cause you to feel faint, especially if you’re already taking anti-hypertensive medication.
Q: What’s the best time of day to check my blood pressure?
A: Measure it at various times to determine when it’s typically highest, then check it at that time each day. Also measure your blood pressure if you experience symptoms such as lightheadedness, which might stem from too much anti-hypertensive medications.
To ensure reliable results, rest your arm in the same position whenever you take your blood pressure reading. Before measuring it, wait half an hour after exercise or consuming caffeine, which can both increase your blood pressure, or after eating, which can lower it.
Q: Why does my blood pressure yo-yo, bouncing up and down from day to day, ranging from as high as 180/98 to as low as 107/61?
A: Consult your doctor. This may be due to a number of causes ranging from a nerve inflammation due to diabetes to a treatable adrenaline-producing tumour called a pheochromocytoma.
Q: What causes in increase in my systolic (or higher) blood pressure number reading while the diastolic (lower) number remains constant?
A: The stiffening of the arteries that typically occurs with advancing age can cause systolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts) to rise above normal without affecting diastolic pressure (the pressure between heart muscle contractions). Temporary systolic blood pressure hikes may result from exercise, stress, excitement, anemia, or an overactive thryoid gland.
Until recently, doctors paid less attention to systolic blood pressure. But emerging studies have clearly shown that for middle-aged and older people, any increase in systolic blood pressure over 140 mm Hg definitely needs to be controlled.
* NEWS UPDATE: December 18, 2013: New hypertension guidelines published in the Journal of the American Medical Association now suggest treatment goals for people over 60 should be set at 150 over 90 mm Hg, based on studies showing these patients fare just as well over time at this higher level. The goal for other groups is 140 over 90.
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Note: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical advice.