Healthy Pilot #6: Controlling Your Blood Pressure

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Want to remain PIC for a good long while? Pay attention to your blood pressure and, with your doctor's help, keep it under control.

Symptomless and pain free, high blood pressure is an insidious condition that can cause serious havoc to your body systems if left unattended. It’s item 18h on the Basic Med checklist.

Even though you won’t be able to tell if your blood pressure becomes elevated, you’ll certainly know about the consequences of high blood pressure if left unchecked.

For instance, high blood pressure has been attributed to damaged, narrowed arteries that contribute to atherosclerosis, itself implicated in heart failure, heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure can cause a weakening in the artery walls of the brain, leading to a catastrophic aneurysm.

High blood pressure can also lead to damaged arteries feeding the heart, which can set up arrhythmias, chest pain or heart attack.

The ills of high blood pressure don’t stop with the heart. It’s the central culprit in transient ischemic attack (TIA) that causes mini-strokes leading to major strokes, dementia or, at the very least, mild cognitive impairment.

Kidney failure, damage to the blood vessels of the eye, fluid buildup under the retina, damage to the optic nerve—and, oh yes, erectile dysfunction—can all be laid at the doorstep of uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Causes and Controls

AVweb turned to its sister website University Health News to get a better handle on high blood pressure and what to do about it. It helps to begin with an understanding of what causes it. Actually, your kidneys play a central role: They are tasked with maintaining the proper balance between sodium and fluid in the body. If the kidneys don’t excrete fluid efficiently, the resulting fluid buildup could elevate blood volume which in turn places additional pressure on the interior walls of blood vessels.

The hormones angiotensin and aldosterone could also contribute to high blood pressure. Angiotensin influences the widening or narrowing of blood vessels; constrictions lead to higher blood pressure. Aldosterone affects the kidneys’ ability to balance fluid and sodium levels.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Maintaining your pilot privileges, even with a diagnosis of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, should be a straightforward matter for you and your doctor. So don’t worry. It will only make matters worse.

Your blood pressure is expressed as two numbers in mmHg or millimeters of mercury, with the top number conveying your systolic pressure and the bottom number your diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure occurs when the heart contracts and diastolic when the heart relaxes following a contraction.

The guideline was recently lowered from 140/90 mmHg to 135/80 mmHG, which means many more people who thought they were in the clear now have high blood pressure. But that’s a good thing if you can get it under control before it does too much damage. At this stage you and your doctor will likely test your blood to determine your cholesterol levels, as managing blood pressure and cholesterol are the twin pillars of heart health.

According to University Health News, your doctor will discuss several different types of drugs to handle your hypertension, with the final choice typically determined by what causes the most benefit and the fewest potential side effects. Expect to hear terms like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, even renin inhibitors.

Prevention

One good way to deal with hypertension (and you’re not alone) is to not get it in the first place, or at least lessen its severity.

A heart healthy diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, healthy fats from olive oil or avocado, plant-based proteins or non-fat dairy. Needless to say, weight loss is recommended. And if you’re still smoking after more than a half century of bad news on that subject, there’s not a lot we can say.  Bottom line: Cut back (way back) on sodium, animal fat and red meat, walk more and get some sleep.

Our friends at University Health News have some excellent heart health information that’s quick and easy to read. The free report on Heart Health is excellent.

And check out these important links:

New Hypertension Guidelines: Rethinking Blood Pressure Standards

Natural Remedy for High Blood Pressure: Vitamin D

What Causes Hypertension? Diet Plays a Huge Role