High Blood Pressure and Your Brain

Conditions

Nearly 1 in 3 adults in the United States is affected by high blood pressure, or hypertension. Another 1 in 3 has prehypertension, meaning that if changes aren’t made, they’ll soon be joining the first group.

With a condition being so common, you’d think it’s not a big deal — and you’d be wrong.

The effects of uncontrolled hypertension can be serious. While we do have plenty of medications to combat the condition, there are several changes you can make now to avoid high blood pressure in the future.

Effects of High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure may seem like something that primarily affects your heart, and maybe your lungs, but the truth is that high blood pressure can influence organs from the brain down to the kidneys.

The American Heart Association has stated that high blood pressure influences brain health in a number of ways and can lead to vascular cognitive impairment.

Stroke

When blood supply to the brain is blocked or interrupted for some reason, a stroke occurs. This interruption damages and kills brain tissue due to a lack of oxygen, which can result in mental impairments.

High blood pressure can cause small ruptures in stressed vessel walls, inducing a hemorrhagic stroke. The narrowing of blood vessels is also common with high blood pressure, and if vessels get too narrow, regions of the brain might not receive the necessary amount of blood to function properly.

Aneurysm

As blood pressure increases, so does the pressure put on the walls of arteries. Over time, this can cause weak spots to form. If an area gets too weak, it stretches out, creating a bulge outside the normal path of the artery. This bulge is called an aneurysm.

Aneurysms can form anywhere arteries run. Less than 5 percent of the people with an aneurysm experience any sort of internal bleeding, but if an aneurysm bursts, it causes a medical emergency. When this happens in the brain, it creates a hemorrhagic stroke and brain functionality suffers.

Dementia

Vascular dementia occurs when blood flow to the brain decreases, diminishes, or is temporarily blocked. This often happens after someone suffers a stroke or if blood vessels are so constricted that the brain is having trouble with the amount of blood it’s receiving.

Vascular dementia has similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s including problems with fine motor skills, recalling information, and reasoning. People who have Alzheimer’s may have vascular dementia as a contributing factor, and doctors believe the condition is underdiagnosed as a cause of dementia.

Are You At Risk?

So what makes someone prone to high blood pressure? Lifestyle choices, as well as genetic factors, have an impact on your likelihood to develop hypertension.

If you smoke or drink heavily, you put yourself at a higher risk. Both tobacco and alcohol increase your blood pressure temporarily.

High-salt diets increase your risk, as well as diets that are high in sugar or saturated fats. If your lifestyle has led you to be overweight, you are putting additional strain on your heart and circulatory system, which can lead to hypertension.

Genetically speaking, high blood pressure is strongly tied to family history. If your parents have high blood pressure, you are more likely to develop high blood pressure. African Americans are more likely to develop hypertension than any other race.

Age and gender also play a role. As you get older, blood vessels lose their elasticity and don’t stretch out as well, which causes higher pressure in your blood vessels. Men are more likely to develop high blood pressure until about 45, when the chances become about equal for both genders. After age 65, women shoulder more of the risk.

Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

Luckily, there is a lot that can be done to prevent high blood pressure and to manage the condition after it’s diagnosed. High blood pressure can be reversed with lifestyle adjustments that will make the heart, and consequently the brain, happier. You should always consult your doctor before making any significant lifestyle changes, especially in regards to diet and exercise.

1.   Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. If you already have hypertension, losing excess weight can be one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure. Steps 2 and 3 can help with weight management.

Body mass index (BMI) is often used to determine if you’re at a healthy weight, though the measurement can be inaccurate for people who are exceptionally muscular. Waist measurements may be used with BMI calculations to get a more accurate picture of what healthy weight looks like for you.

2.   Eat Well

The most well-known advice when it comes to lowering blood pressure might be, “eat less salt.” Reducing sodium in your diet is a piece of lowering your blood pressure, but it’s equally important to introduce foods that are high in protein and fiber. Dietary supplements like pea protein can help lower blood pressure, along with calcium and magnesium.

The DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, provides guidelines for people trying to optimize their diet for decreasing blood pressure. Recommended servings can be adjusted to fit lower calorie goals if you’re trying to lose weight.

3.   Be Physically Active

Exercise doesn’t need to be as daunting as it sounds. For most people, it only takes 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day to see the benefits. You can obtain this level of activity without having to set foot on a treadmill.

Easy ways to up your physical activity include adding a walk to your evening routine, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or spreading house and yard work out over your week. Washing a car, gardening, and cleaning floors are all considered moderate physical activity — and they’re probably already on your to-do list.

1.   Reduce Stress

Stress releases adrenaline and cortisol into the blood. These hormones regulate your “fight or flight” reflex and cause your blood vessels to constrict and your heart to beat faster. Together, these reactions cause your blood pressure to climb.

While stress can be an effective tool at times, remaining stressed for too long can have damaging effects on the body. Anger and nervousness have similar results, making emotional health paramount to managing hypertension.

Managing stress is different for everyone, so it’s important to find what works for you. Some people like going to counseling to have someone to talk to, while that idea terrifies others. Meditation might suit you better, or taking up a hobby that relieves tension and cultivates joy.

2.   Get Tech on Your Side

Wearable technology is quickly becoming a leader in managing your health. Smart watches and cell phone applications have a slew of options to help you keep a food journal, track your activity, and monitor your heart rate.

76 percent of healthcare providers believe that wearable tech will help people manage chronic conditions like hypertension and obesity. Even if you’re not currently affected, health tracking apps can provide encouragement and make maintaining a healthy lifestyle easier.

Be Empowered

Hypertension may seem like an inevitable, scary beast that leads to horrible things. While it can be, you’re now equipped with information to keep the beast at bay. Make sure to contact your doctor if you have concerns about your health. In the meantime, go forth and relax, take a walk, and eat some fibrous fruits.


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