Friday, January 19, 2007

Get Pumped

The top three causes of death in the US are heart disease, cancer and stroke - in that order.

Of the three, it's stroke I fear most. I don't fear dying from it, I fear living with its fallout. I'm not saying that coping with a malignancy or the threat of my heart undergoing infarct at any moment don't also petrify me. But thoughts of the physical, mental, emotional, social, and economic impact of a brain attack shiver my timbers.

The most common cause of stroke, a cause that hikes risk by up to 6 times, a cause that has no signs or symptoms, a cause that 1 in 3 adults is - at this moment - walking around with ... is? Insidious bugger, isn't it. And the data showing just how sneaky and dangerous high blood pressure (BP) is has been pouring in, so much so that in 2003, the government, via the JNC 71, lowered the threshold below which a person is considered normotensive2. That threshold is no longer 120/80 mmHg.

Go on, get a BP reading ... 1 in 3 adults, no symptoms, not even being overweight can predict having it (although losing weight can lower it). Slip your arm into a drug store pressure cuff, or invest in a home model (you can pick up a manual one for $10). If your reading is (consistently) above 115/75 mmHg, you're at increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. I spit you not.
"Beginning at 115/75 mmHg the risk of cardiovascular disease doubles with each increment of 20/10 mmHg."
- JNC 7
Chronically high pressure against the walls of arteries damages them. Damaged walls collect plaque and narrow over time. Even if you avoid the acute conditions named above3, narrow vessels deliver less oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and organs - they'll never be all they can be, even in the Army.

If you're used to reading my blog, you know I like to wrap up with a remedy. At least that's my goal. I could tick off the standard BP-lowering protocols - reduce alcohol, reduce salt, reduce stress, reduce excess weight, reduce noise, and eat the government-recommended DASH Diet (more on that one later). But the particular remedy I have in mind for tempering a slowly rising blood pressure concerns none of that.

More in my next post, here.

1 JNC 7: The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Published in 2003 by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLB), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

2 Normotensive: normal blood pressure. Hypertensive: high blood pressure.

3 Namely, stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. Speaking of acute ... my Taber's Medical Dictionary defines acute as "sharp, severe" with "rapid onset". The first time I heard the phrase "acute myocardial infarction" I regarded the speaker as a tad insensitive. What's cute about a heart attack? While I'm beefing about medical terminology, I vote for an upgrade to "morbidity" which literally means "sickness". As the term stands, assuming a January national average for flu at 3%, we can justifiably conclude at least 16 members of Congress (3% of 535) are morbid. (I might have used any group for this example ... undertakers, physicians, clergy, bloggers ... but I didn't have a ready figure for them ;)

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