Stress, the Holidays, and Your Blood Pressure
For the 80 million Americans with high blood pressure, the hectic holiday crunch is cause for a little extra caution.
Things to watch out for:
- Salty snacks: There’s no shortage of salty snacks around the holidays, but we aware that increased sodium intake has been shown to increase blood pressure and causes the body to retain fluids that place an increased burden on your heart.
- Holiday Stress: For some, the holidays bring great joy, but for others, the crowds, the quest to find the perfect gift, the economic uncertainty, the back to back parties, missing loved ones, and the lack of sleep that goes with the hustle and bustle of the season can be overwhelming. And while not all stress is bad, chronic stress can cause your body to go into high gear for days and weeks at a time which may not directly cause an increase in blood pressure but can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices as a coping mechanism to combat the stresses of the holiday season.
- Take Your Medication: It is quite literally sabotaging yourself if you don’t take the medications that your doctor has prescribed. The holidays can be stressful and hectic, but don’t forget or skip taking them as is can literally increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
- Beware of over the counter medications: Colds and the flu run rampant this time of the year. Many of the over the counter medications that combat colds and the flu can increase your blood pressure. Always check with your doctor and/or pharmacist before mixing your medications.
This holiday season, take time to relax and remember what’s important. Go for a walk or a run. Volunteer your time to help others; it will help you keep perspective and helping others in need can help you feel less isolated.
Understanding Blood Pressure
How do I read my blood pressure?
Blood pressure readings consist of two numbers:
- Systolic (top number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or contracts.
- Diastolic (bottom number) measures the pressure in the arteries during the rest period while the chambers are refilling with blood.
Which number is more important, top (systolic) or bottom (diastolic)?
Typically more attention is given to the top number (the systolic blood pressure) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50 years old. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque, and increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.
When is an individual considered to be at risk for hypertension?
The chart above shows the ranges of blood pressure readings that are considered normal or could be cause for concern.
Why is managing blood pressure important?
Possible health consequences that can happen over time when high blood pressure is left untreated include:
Damage to the heart and coronary arteries, including heart attack, heart disease, congestive heart failure, aortic dissection and atherosclerosis (fatty buildups in the arteries that cause them to harden), stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, erectile dysfunction, memory loss, fluid in the lungs, Angina, Peripheral artery disease
When should I take my blood pressure?
It is important to remember that blood pressure can fluctuate so taking readings at home is beneficial for monitoring blood pressure. Remember to take readings at the same time each day, such as morning and evening, or as your healthcare professional recommends.
What do I do if I am diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension)?
When your blood pressure is 140 or higher for your systolic pressure (top number) OR 90 or higher for your diastolic pressure (bottom number), a healthcare provider may prescribe a medication to help you maintain a healthy blood pressure. In addition to medication your healthcare provider will recommend following these guidelines:
- Eat a better diet, which may include reducing salt
- Enjoy regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage stress
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Comply with medication prescriptions
- If you drink, limit alcohol
- Understand hot tub safety
Sources: American Heart Association