One of the most common complications of diabetes involves the heart and blood vessels (the cardiovascular system). People with diabetes are at a significantly higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. So, if you have diabetes, controlling your blood pressure is essential. The causes and effects of high blood pressure and how to treat it follow.
BLOOD PRESSURE, DEFINED
Blood pressure is the amount of force exerted on the walls of your blood vessels. The number at the top of your blood pressure reading (systolic) reflects the amount of force exerted on the walls of your blood vessels as your heart beats. The bottom number of the reading (diastolic) is the amount of force exerted between heartbeats, when the vessels relax.
Generally, as you get older, the amount of elasticity of your blood vessels tends to decrease, and your blood pressure tends to increase. Although there is not much you can do to prevent this from happening, there are ways to reduce your risk factors to maintain the elasticity of your blood vessels.
For example, smoking cigarettes has been found to reduce the elasticity of blood vessels. Also, having persistently high blood sugar levels (which happens when diabetes is poorly controlled) reduces the elasticity of blood vessels. Both these conditions can lead to increases in blood pressure, which raise the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. It’s important to avoid smoking and to keep your blood sugar in check in order to control your blood pressure.
Other risk factors for high blood pressure include having a poor diet, the lack of exercise, alcohol consumption and increased salt intake. Although each of these risk factors can increase blood pressure, when combined they increase blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke significantly. So it’s important to pay attention to your diet, especially your intake of salt and alcohol, and your activity level, particularly if you have diabetes.
To help control blood pressure, you should stick to a diet low in sodium (salt). Your kidneys excrete extra fluids from the body by delicately balancing the amount of salt and electrolytes and utilizing a process known as osmosis. If people with diabetes increase their salt intake, there will be more salt in the body than in the kidneys, so water will flow from the kidneys back into the body.
The result is withholding more fluids, which will raise blood pressure because more fluid in the blood vessels means more pressure on the walls of the blood vessels, which equals higher blood pressure. A low-salt diet will help prevent the retention of extra fluids that increase blood pressure.
Exercise has been proven to reduce resting blood pressure. It has also been shown to assist the body in reducing blood sugar levels. When you exercise, your muscles help to pull extra sugar out of the bloodstream. The combination of these improvements significantly reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with diabetes. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends exercising 30 minutes each day, five days a week, to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
BLOOD PRESSURE MEDICINE
Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure. On its own, high blood pressure can cause damage to the kidneys. If a patient has both high blood pressure and what may be evidence of an early sign of kidney disease (microalbuminuria), then in order to protect the kidneys, a healthcare provider may prescribe an ACE inhibitor. This medicine has been found to prevent damage to the kidneys, which is a concern for people with diabetes. ACE inhibitors help high blood pressure and protect the kidneys.