Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common disease, and almost everyone is at risk. By itself, however, hypertension may not present identifiable symptoms. Without measuring blood pressure, you may not even know you have it.
There are two types of hypertension: primary (or “essential”) and secondary. Primary hypertension occurs without a known cause in otherwise healthy and fit persons. Risk of developing hypertension varies with age, sex, race and family history. Secondary hypertension may be caused by other illnesses such as tumors of certain glands and organs, over-the-counter pain relievers, birth control medication, chronic alcohol use and some illegal drug use. Obesity and sedentary lifestyle also contribute to hypertension and diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
Untreated or uncontrolled high blood pressure can have serious repercussions. The most common complications are heart attack, stroke, heart failure and damage to the blood vessels of the eye, kidneys and nervous system. The good news is that there are a variety of medications your physician can prescribe based on your personal health patterns that can effectively treat hypertension. While primary hypertension cannot be cured, it can be controlled to avoid damage to body systems. This is true of secondary hypertension as well, which can be controlled with medication, moderate exercise and healthy life style.
What can a sailor with hypertension do? Few people know better than boaters the value of preventing a disaster by attending to good maintenance. Keep regularly scheduled medical appointments, write down health questions to ask your doctor and, most of all, follow your doctor’s advice about medication. Keeping a journal of your blood pressure will help you track the effects of your medication and detect any important changes. In addition to your physician’s advice, a dietitian can be helpful in providing a healthy diet plan for your sailing trips, especially when it comes to limiting dietary salt. Don’t wait to see what happens after new symptoms start.
When you’re at sea, help may be a long way from where you are. Have a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope or other dependable device onboard to measure your blood pressure, and know how to use these items. Headaches, bloody noses or shortness of breath may be due to a number of causes, but when they are associated with exertion and stressful situations, you have to consider blood pressure as a potential culprit. To assure the best possible outcome, use common sense, listen to and work with your healthcare providers and follow their recommendations. Smooth sailing!
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