Hypertension is one of the most common chronic diseases. The latest World Health Organization (WHO) statistics shows that 1.13 billion people worldwide are diagnosed with hypertension, among which only less than 1/5th are able to effectively manage their hypertension. Normal blood pressure is defined as systolic pressure lower than 120 mmHg and diastolic pressure lower than 80 mmHg. Prehypertension is defined as systolic pressure between 120-139 and diastolic pressure between 80-89. It is considered hypertension when one has more than 3 blood pressure readings that are 140/90 mmHg or greater over a period of 2 weeks. However, clinically speaking, physicians will adjust the diagnosing criteria of hypertension according to each patient’s gender and age, because blood pressure is generally higher in men than in women, and blood pressure also increases with age.
Understanding Blood Pressure Readings
A blood pressure reading consists of two parts: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures the force of blood pushing against the artery walls when the heart contracts; thus it is considered an important indicator of an individual's cardiovascular health. Diastolic pressure measures the force of blood flow in the arteries as the heart relaxes, and it is associated with the perfusion of renal arteries. As a result, having an elevated diastolic pressure over a long period of time tends to affect kidney functions.
Taking an Accurate Blood Pressure
Smoking, drinking alcohol or any caffeinated beverages, and any sort of exercises should be avoided 30 minutes prior to a blood pressure check in order to get an accurate reading. If time allows, sit quietly for 5 to 10 minutes before taking blood pressure, and it is suggested to measure both arms. Generally speaking, blood pressures tend to be higher in the right arm than in the left arm.
Symptoms of Hypertension
High blood pressure is often called "the silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms. Most of the patients are not even aware of their debilitating conditions. Some hypertension patients may experience dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, palpitation, stiffness and redness on the neck and shoulder, hot flashes, and tingling in the hands and feet. In severe cases, patients may exhibit symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, seizure, limping, and unresponsiveness.
Western medicine has developed several types of medication to help lower blood pressure, including diuretics, vasodilators, calcium channel blockers, and Beta blockers etc. However, these medications not only come with side effects, but also require a long-term use.
They are effective in controlling blood pressure rather than eradicating it. On the other hand, from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is possible to cure hypertension if the root cause is identified.
One of the root causes of high blood pressure is having blockages in the vessels. When the blood vessels are blocked due to a thrombus or the accumulation of blood lipids, the heart will try to break down the blockages by enhancing its contractions and increasing the speed of blood flow. In addition, high blood pressure can also be attributed to a lack of energy in the body. When the body is too weak to deliver sufficient blood to every organ in the body, the heart will compensate for such deficiency by intensifying its force and pump out more blood to supply the whole body. Therefore, if the physician can recognize the root cause of one's high blood pressure, effective treatments can be implemented to target the issue. For example, if the problem is blockage, the appropriate treatment will focus on activating the blood circulation and dissolving blood stasis; if the problem is a lack of energy, the goal will be tonifying the deficiency.
High blood pressure is often resulted from an imbalanced yin and yang in the liver and the kidney. Common forms are as follows:
Ascendant hyperactivity of liver yang: Commonly seen in patients at the early stage of hypertension. Symptoms include nervousness, irritability, dizziness, dry mouth, and constipation. Treatments include using Longdan Xiegan Tang (decoction of Gentian for purging liver-fire) and Zhengan Xifeng Tang (decoction for tranquilizing liver-wind) to clear the heat.
Yin deficiency with yang hyperactivity: Long-term anxiety and poor sleep quality tend to cause the depletion of liver yin and kidney yin. Remedies to restore the yin include Tianma Gouteng Yin (decoction of Gastrodia and Uncaria) and Qi Ju Di Huang Wan.
Phlegm-damp blockade and stagnation: Favoring cold food, chronic constipation, and a lack of exercise often lead to spleen and stomach problems, resulting in phlegm dampness and phlegm turbidity. Remedies such as Wendan Tang (decoction for clearing away gallbladder heat) and Si Shen Tang (Chinese four herb soup) are both effective in strengthening the spleen, tonifying the stomach, and removing dampness.
Blood stasis: An excessive intake of greasy food can lead to an increased level of blood lipids, poor metabolism, and obstructed meridians, all of which can further result in blood stasis and high blood pressure.
Diet Therapy for Hypertension
Ginseng (King of Herbs) - Ginseng is effective in replenishing qi and enhancing the efficacy of the endocrine system, metabolism, and the elimination system. It is also particularly effective in improving the cardiovascular system by regulating the blood pressure, accelerating the metabolism of blood lipids, and increasing the hypoxia tolerance.
Stress Relief Tea - Ingredients: 3 maces of chrysanthemum, 3 maces of du-zhong (cortex eucommiae), 3 maces of dan-shen (Radix Salviae miltiorrhiza), 5 maces of Goji berries, 6 maces of jue-ming-zi (cassia seed), 2 maces of gan-cao (licorice root). Directions: Boil the ingredients with 2000 c.c of water on high heat. Then simmer for 20-30 minutes on low heat.
Tips to Help Lower Blood Pressure
Keep a healthy lifestyle and get enough sleep
Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption
Maintain a healthy weight
Commit to a regular exercise pattern
Reduce intake of foods rich in fat and salt
Keep a positive mood and avoid ongoing fear and anxiety
Avoid overworking yourself and avoid excessive worry: Long-term mental stress tend to excite the sympathetic nervous system, and anger often increases the secretion of adrenaline, resulting in the constriction of arterioles and an elevated blood pressure.