Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hypertension 1: Introduction/Diagnosis

All my life I was healthy. No hospitalizations, no serious illnesses. I ate what I wanted, thought exercise was for idiots, stayed up late—generally, I blundered through life ok, despite myself.

Then, in May, 2005, I was diagnosed with Hypertension--high blood pressure. Follow my story and you will go with me into Medical Land. New to Hypertension? One in five of us have it. If you have been recently diagnosed my story may help you to understand what this condition is, and what to expect. And, my friend, you have no idea what to expect! I certainly did not!

It is hard to be patient about being a patient, it requires patience, of which doctors have many...okay okay, you know where this is going, and there are even more bad puns ahead. If we’re going to read about a deadly illness, there may as well be some jokes. Bad jokes, yes, but jokes.

What is Hypertension? It’s when your heart pumps blood too hot and heavy. The extra pounding results in unusual pressure against your blood vessels, against your brain and eyes and other body parts. The harder the pressure, the worse the potential damage on your arteries, brain, heart, kidneys…it’s a long list.

Generally, you’re peachy if your blood pressure averages 120/70. Averages? Your blood pressure bounces up and down like a yoyo, depending on whether you are resting, running, sleepy or stressed, having sex or watching television. Once I had a systolic reading of 200 and I was sitting on the couch.

Systolic? What does 120/70 mean?

The first number (systolic) is the pressure when your heart is beating. Diastolic, the second number, is what happens between heart beats. Once your blood pressure gets to 150/85, most medical types say your blood pressure is too high. The higher it gets after that, the worse off you are. Once you go past 200 systolic you’re in stroke territory. But there is no knowing when a stroke or heart attack will happen.

In many ways there are far worse disabilities than Hypertension. Compared with some, it’s a piece of cake (as Marie Antoinette would have said). It can be controlled, and you have time to work on it. You have choices. After being diagnosed, the big problem is not so much having Hypertension, but what to do about it.

I first learned I had it in the Spring, 2005. I was all set to take my daughter to Phantompalooza--an anniversary showing of "Phantom of the Paradise". Instead I had kidney stones.

While in the hospital emergency room getting unstoned (no, Nancy Reagan had nothing to do with it--you were warned about the puns)--and again no, you don’t want to know how they got the stones out)--my blood pressure was 210/125 or so. The hospital doctors thought I should see what my blood pressure was like when my body was not stressed. As it turned out, it was almost as bad.

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