Sunday, September 9, 2012

36 Million Americans Have Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure

A copyrighted story in the New York Times reported today that a recent US government analysis found that 36 million Americans have untreated hypertension.

This isn't because treatment isn't available. The New York Times also reported that of these 36 million hypertensives, 32 million see a doctor regularly, and 30 million have health insurance.

The Times stated:

"This is not primarily a case of poor, uninsured people unable to get the care they need. It is shocking evidence of how our complicated, dysfunctional health care system can’t deliver recommended care to many patients who could benefit, because their doctors are asleep at the switch. As a result, patients go on to suffer medical harm and their care inflicts big costs on the health care system."

And this medical harm can express itself in ways that don't often make the news. Consider one of the potential effects of hypertension on the valves in the veins in the legs. Sometimes hypertension results in varicose veins. We think of varicose veins as a cosmetic problem, and they certainly are, but along with varicose veins comes venous insufficiency.

Tissues in the legs don't get the oxygen they need. A muscle isn't sufficiently oxygenated and first thing you know, there's a twisted ankle or a wrenched knee--and unexpected complication of blood pressure that runs too high.

Or venous insufficiency can result in dry skin. That dry skin cracks. Bacteria get into the cracks and cause infection. Some infections are harder to treat than others. Little specks of infection become oozy, gaping, open wounds that are very difficult to heal.

And of course high blood pressure can also cause heart attack and stroke. And ischemic colitis. And increased risk of frostbite. The list is long.

Every doctor is going to monitor your blood pressure occasionally, but only you can monitor it every day. An inexpensive blood pressure cuff you can use at home is a must for maintaining good health.

If you blood pressure exceeds 140/90, you need to do something about it. Medication is usually only part of the answer. Most meds your doctor prescribes only knock off about 10 points off systolic pressure (the first number) and about 5 points off diastolic pressure (the second number). You have to do your part by consuming less salt and more fruits and vegetables, minimizing caffeine and nicotine, and reducing stress. Sure, my suggestions like hibiscus tea for blood pressure really do help, some, but no matter which medical or natural remedy for blood pressure you try, you need to measure your blood pressure to make sure it is working. And if you have both high blood pressure and high cholesterol, consider a diet recommended by cardiologist Demetrio Sodi-Pallares, who practiced medicine 12 hours a day until he was 90.

But whatever you do--get that blood pressure down. And take your blood pressure every day to make sure your program is working.

Photo credit: Harmid (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

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