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By Beena Deshpande Email By Beena Deshpande
May 2003

As health awareness is increasing day by day, there is a lot of talk about hypertension or high blood pressure. About one in every five adults has high blood pressure. It can affect any person regardless of race and gender. Unfortunately, most people feel no symptoms.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force that the bloodstream exerts on the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. When blood pressure stays elevated for a longer time, it is called high blood pressure or hypertension.

Most doctors will diagnose a person with high blood pressure on the basis of two or more readings, taken at different times. A consistent blood pressure reading of 140/90 (mm Hg) or higher is considered high blood pressure, and treatment is recommended.

Even mildly elevated blood pressure, if left untreated, leads to risk for heart disease including stroke & kidney problems, especially if you have other risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol, or smoking. Risk factors are behaviors or conditions that can increase your chances of developing a disease. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing a disease, hence it is important to take steps to prevent or control risk factors.

Why does blood pressure rise?

Our heart pumps blood rich in oxygen to the rest of the body through the arteries. Certain nerve impulses, with the help of hormones, cause the arteries to dilate (become larger) or contract (become smaller). If these arteries are wide open, blood can flow through easily.

But when the walls of the arteries become thicker as excess of fat from blood gets deposited on the walls of arteries, they lose elasticity. There is less room inside for blood and it is harder for the blood to flow through them, so the blood pressure rises.

What does high blood pressure do to our body?

When blood pressure rises, it adds extra workload to your heart and arteries. Your heart becomes strained (as heart has to pump blood with more force) and the blood that's moving in the arteries is under greater pressure. If high blood pressure continues for a long time, your heart and arteries may not function as well as they should. Thickening of the arteries that supply blood to kidneys and brain may cause these organs to be affected badly as these vital organs get less oxygen than they need. Our heart, brain and kidneys can handle increased pressure for a long time. That's why one can live for years without any symptoms.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for a stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.

Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime. One can prevent and control high blood pressure by following proper diet and modifying lifestyle.

When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases several times.

Prevention & treatment

It is very important to keep your blood pressure under control. A healthy lifestyle is important in both preventing and controlling high blood pressure. If lifestyle changes alone are not effective in keeping your pressure controlled, it may be necessary to add blood pressure medications.


A well balanced diet is very essential in controlling the blood pressure.

Salt / Sodium

Most of us consume more salt than we need. For individuals with high blood pressure, eating less salt and sodium can keep blood pressure from rising and help blood pressure medicines work better.

You may not have to give up salt completely. Sodium restriction alone may not help to bring down the blood pressure. Besides sodium, many other minerals also play an active role in maintaining or normalizing blood pressure, e.g. potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Deficiency or excess of any of these can lead to rise in blood pressure.

Potassium helps in normalizing blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels & helping the body to get rid of extra sodium & water.

Freshly prepared vegetable or fruit juices are a good source of potassium. Fruits such as banana, watermelon, papaya, and peaches are rich in potassium.

Low fat milk, dry fruits, potatoes, whole grains, and pulses are good sources of potassium too.

Magnesium also plays an important role in maintaining normal blood pressure. Deficiency of magnesium leads to rise in blood pressure. Most of us need 300 to 400 mg of magnesium daily to keep our blood pressure in normal range.

Fish, pulses, nuts, whole grain, wheat bran, and leafy vegetables are good natural source of magnesium.

Caution: If you have kidney or heart related problems, you should check with your doctor before taking supplemental potassium or magnesium. Excess potassium intake can be toxic due to improper kidney function.

Beena Deshpande, is a certified, trained, and practicing dietitian from India.  She can be reached at 678-546-9658 or email .

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