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Managing High Blood Pressure
By: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM

High blood pressure is also known as hypertension, a common disease affecting one out of three adults in the U.S..  Blood pressure is the measurement of force exerted by the blood as it squeezes through the artery walls. The heart is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood through the arteries, which is then delivered into the cells throughout the body. If the heart is forced to work too hard, and high blood pressure ensues as a result, the chances for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke increase.

The average blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg, and any reading at or above 140/90 mmHg is considered hypertension. The top number is called systolic pressure and refers to the force of blood flow when the heart is actively beating. The bottom number is termed diastolic pressure and it measures the strength of flow when the heart is at rest.

A thorough medical practitioner will schedule three separate appointments for a patient, at which time three blood pressure measurements will be taken on both arms. This is done in an effort to provide the most accurate diagnosis since blood pressure is not necessarily constant. Readings can vary due to a patient's emotional state, the time of day and other reasons. Several factors can temporarily raise blood pressure by up to 40 mmHg, such as talking during the reading, feeling physically cold, having a full bladder, and ingesting alcohol, caffeine or nicotine less than 30 minutes prior to the testing.

Although it is very common for a person with hypertension to not experience any symptoms the first few years of the disease, there are some signs that may be exhibited. The following is a list of potential signs and symptoms of high blood pressure:

  • headache
  • shortness of breath
  • nosebleeds
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • vision problems
  • hematuria (blood in the urine)

There are some known causes of high blood pressure, including kidney problems, obstructive sleep apnea and thyroid problems. Use of certain street drugs and over-the-counter medications are also culprits. These drugs include cocaine, amphetamines, cold remedies, birth control pills and decongestants. Excessive alcohol consumption, a high salt and low potassium diet, and an inactive lifestyle all constitute risk factors for developing the disease. Interestingly, for the majority of hypertensive patients, the cause remains a mystery.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can address symptoms associated with high blood pressure. This applies equally to patients who opt to manage their symptoms with the assistance of pharmaceutical drugs, as well as to those who do not. Additionally, for patients taking physician-prescribed drugs, acupuncture and Oriental medicine can address any unwanted side effects.

Your practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine will need to conduct a thorough examination to properly diagnose your condition, even if you already have a diagnosis of high blood pressure from your medical provider. The theory of acupuncture and Oriental medicine is based on treating each patient as a unique combination of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual factors.

To better understand the methodology of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, we can compare two patients who present with hypertension for different reasons.

The first patient is an overweight woman in her 70's. She is uncomfortable in confrontational situations and prefers to hide her anger rather than express it. Although she enjoys all types of food, she craves sweets on a daily basis. Her tongue presents with a thick, white coat on it. Tests show her blood lipid levels are high, a factor that contributes to hypertension.

For a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, the thick, white coat on the tongue demonstrates the presence of dampness in the body. This damp condition can cause problems with the digestive system, and weight gain may occur easily. Sweet cravings also indicate a digestive imbalance.

When the stomach and spleen weaken, the harmful damp condition that may result has the potential to obstruct the body mechanics responsible for regulating blood pressure. In this case, an acupuncture treatment is needed to assist the body in removing excess body fluids via the urinary system. Doing this will help normalize blood lipid levels.

For our other patient, a 48-year-old male with bloodshot eyes, his acupuncture treatment may look quite different. He is prone to stabbing headaches, especially when under stress. He frequently yells and loses his temper easily. His practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine might diagnose him with a case of liver yang rising.

The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi. Qi is life-sustaining energy that constantly circulates throughout the body. When the liver is out of balance, Qi tends to rush upwards and cause symptoms such as headaches, red eyes and shouting. Yang represents masculine energy. Qualities of yang include heat, activity and outward movement.

When liver yang Qi rises uncontrollably, it can initiate the symptoms of high blood pressure. An acupuncture treatment will then be needed to help calm the liver Qi and stabilize the emotions. Rage, frustration and anger can adversely affect the nervous system which, in turn, might negatively impact blood pressure.

If you are concerned about your blood pressure or experience any of the symptoms of hypertension, it might be time to make an appointment with your practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. No matter what your background or symptoms, a specialized treatment awaits you.

Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help you!

About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.