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When someone in your family has high blood pressure, or any chronic illness, it can be stressful for the whole family. Your family member with high blood pressure may need to take medicines and make some changes to a healthier lifestyle. You may feel upset because you do not know what to do to help. Knowing about high blood pressure and how it affects your family member will prepare you to help your loved one.
High blood pressure occurs when blood vessels become narrow or stiff, forcing the heart to pump harder to push blood through the body.
Blood pressure is measured as two numbers an upper number (called the systolic pressure) and a bottom number (called the diastolic pressure). For adults, 18 and over, blood pressures that stay at 140/90 or higher are considered high.
Blood pressure should be checked at least once a year unless it is too high or too low. In that case, blood pressure should be checked as often as the doctor advises.
High blood pressure affects an estimated 50 million Americans. In most cases, the causes of high blood pressure are not known, but some things may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. These include:
High blood pressure often causes no symptoms, even if severe. It is possible to have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. That is why it is called a silent killer. The only way to find out if blood pressure is too high is to have it measured.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a serious problem because it can damage many organs in the body. It adds to the workload of the heart, which over time can cause the heart to enlarge and become weaker. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of strokes, and it can also damage the kidneys. Careful control of high blood pressure lowers the risk of developing these complications. That is why it is so important for your family member to follow the doctor's advice concerning treatment and to take all the medicines prescribed.
If mild, high blood pressure may sometimes be brought under control by losing weight if your family member is overweight, cutting down on fat and salt in the diet, starting a regular exercise program approved by the doctor, and limiting alcohol intake to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for woman. Medicines may also be needed to get high blood pressure under control. Many effective medicines are available for the treatment of high blood pressure. Sometimes, a combination of different medicines may be needed. These medicines should be taken as ordered by the doctor, even if your family member is feeling fine, because high blood pressure is just as damaging even when it causes no symptoms.
The doctor will talk to you about the best treatment for your family member who has high blood pressure. This treatment will be based on the results of the patient's tests, physical examination and individual needs.
Many of the lifestyle changes advised for people with high blood pressure, such as following a healthier diet and starting an exercise program, are things we all should do as part of a healthy lifestyle. These changes can benefit the whole family.
Reducing the amount of fat and salt can lower the risk of many diseases and also be an important part of the treatment for high blood pressure. Fixing healthful meals for the whole family will save wear and tear on the cook who will not have to make separate foods for your family member with high blood pressure. It will also make it easier for him or her to follow the diet by eliminating some of the temptation to return to old habits.
The family member who does the meal planning and cooking should visit the dietitian along with the patient. Both can learn about the best foods to use and other helpful ideas to make following the diet easier. The doctor can provide a referral to a registered dietitian, who will offer suggestions about eating the right foods in the right amounts to help control high blood pressure. The services of a registered dietitian may be covered by some health insurance policies.
The benefits of exercise include feeling and looking better, reducing stress and having better overall health. Families can exercise together and enjoy these activities as part of their free time together. They can walk, swim, or ride a bicycle regardless of age or differing abilities. Joining a gym, bowling league or a softball team are other good ideas.
People who have high blood pressure, and smoke increase their risk of having complications such as heart attacks and strokes. Stopping smoking can be hard to do, especially if others in the family continue to smoke. Family members should consider stopping smoking together and using the money usually spent on cigarettes to buy something they can enjoy together. At today's high cigarette prices, it would not take long to save enough money for a bicycle, for example.
Families can be supportive, but the responsibility for taking medicines rests with the patient. Sometimes, patients may have difficulty remembering whether they took the medicines or not. Special pill boxes are available that have small compartments labeled with the days of the week, as well as times of the day. These allow your family member to check to make sure the pill was taken. Watches with alarms and beepers are also helpful.
Some of the main reasons patients give for not taking their medicines are:
Regardless of the reason, failing to follow the doctor's orders about taking medicines is dangerous. Blood pressure medicines should never be stopped abruptly. You should encourage your family member who has high blood pressure to discuss any questions or concerns about medicines with the doctor. If there are problems with side effects, the doctor may be able to prescribe a different medicine that works better for the patient.
Usually, continuing with normal family life is an important part of what the family can do to help the person who has high blood pressure. Trying to shield the person only robs them of their usual place in the family. It may be useful to talk openly as a family about what kind of help the patient finds "helpful" and what kind of help seems more like "nagging." If there are frequent disagreements or constant stress in the family, counseling may be useful. The family's religious leader, a family service agency in the community, or a private counselor (psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker) can help family members talk about their concerns and find new ways to make family life more positive and less stressful.
Sometimes, family members themselves have many worries about whether they are doing the right thing when they try to help. They may be angry and frustrated when the patient refuses to make lifestyle changes or take the prescribed medicines. They may worry about the future and the chance the patient may get sicker. Talking about these worries is important. Sometimes, just getting out of the house and talking it over with a friend is all that is needed to feel better. If these worries continue or have a negative effect on other parts of life (a job or school, for example), it may be important to talk with a professional counselor. Remember, it is natural to be worried about a family member who has a health problem. By talking about these worries and concerns, family members may be more able to be supportive and helpful to the person who has high blood pressure.
The exact causes of high blood pressure are usually not known. However, there is evidence that high blood pressure tends to run in families. Therefore, other family members should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year
If high blood pressure is not well controlled, other problems may develop such as heart attacks, strokes or kidney disease. It is important to encourage the person who has high blood pressure to see the doctor regularly so these problems can be prevented. Family members should be aware of the following warning signs:
See also in this A-Z guide:
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©2013 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.