PrepperMed 101: Managing the pressure when tension rises (blood pressure, that is)

About 30% of American adults have high blood pressure (hypertension), and close to 17% of American adults don’t have their high blood pressure well controlled.  Good thing an emergency scenario wouldn’t increase that further!  O wait….  

This is the first of a new series here at BBBY on dealing with chronic disease (like a cherry on top of the other kinds of problems we prep for).  We’re doing the series because so many people deal with these diseases and they’re not going to conveniently evaporate if ‘some more pressing problem’ arises; they’re just going to become harder to manage.  Please note:  I am not a physician.  I am not pretending to be a physician.  Talk to your real physician for specific advice.  I’m just going to make some observations I hope will be helpful, given that I do have some background in how the body works and sometimes fails to work.

First, if there is some more pressing crisis, is hypertension even worth worrying about?  Many people have it for years without symptoms.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that gives it the nickname ‘the silent killer’ because while it’s hanging around all symptomless, it’s doing irreversible damage to the blood vessels, and that can wreck every major organ system you own.  The second bad news is that the higher the blood pressure goes, the less likely it is to stay without symptoms.  The better outcome in such cases is chronic headaches and feeling poorly.  Problems scale up from there all the way to tearing open a major blood vessel and very quickly bleeding to death.  So, yah, worth consideration.  So what can you do?

In the short term, have some spare meds on hand if you can talk your doc into it…and don’t forget to actually take them regularly during the crisis.  I suggest asking your doc about what you should do if you can’t get ahold of him for a few days and your normal meds aren’t doing the job; and then getting a manual kit, learning how to use it, and watching it during crises.  It’s natural for blood pressure to rise when you’re stressed, but being natural doesn’t make it any better for you.

This MDF Calibra Aneroid Sphygmomanometer is my personal choice for home use. If a cuff costs less than $25, it generally doesn’t work reliably, in my experience.

The BP cuff is no help without the stethoscope. Might as well get a dual head model (for listening to breath sounds too). Get someone to teach you how to take a blood pressure; it’s useful.

If you can’t get meds, there are still things you can do to help yourself.  There are two major groups of blood pressure meds, and one of them is all about helping you get rid of water.  Less fluid (blood) in the pipes (blood vessels) means less pressure in the pipes.  The biggest culprit making you keep too much water is eating too much salt. Unless you’re careful about what you store, eating from your preps is going to make that situation a lot worse.  Heck, some of the products I’ve reviewed for this site had half the recommended daily dose of salt, though the calories were only about a quarter of a daily diet!  

Canned food and MREs are bad about salt, in particular.  Freeze-dried foods tend to be much less bad. Among home-made preps, dehydrated foods can be made salt-free.  When canning, you have some control but be careful:  Salt is just for flavor in some recipes (e.g. most veggies) but part of the preservation in others (e.g. pickled items).

A quarter of a day’s salt in 120 calories of soup is bad…but not unusual.

Another big help:  Exercise.  Sure, some disaster scenarios involve a lot of exercise, such as having to bug out afoot.  Others, such as sheltering in place during an epidemic, could be very sedentary.  In those cases, it’s up to you.  There’s always something one can do even in a house, be it jump rope or calisthenics or weight resistance bands.  Doesn’t sound like what you’d want to be doing when you’re stressed out and things are heading out in a hand-basket?  I hear you.  Nonetheless, exercise is an excellent remedy for hypertension both physiologically and because of what it does to your mindset.

Mindset is, in fact, the other elephant in the room.  Of course the kinds of situations we prep for will be stressful.  The truth is, though, that stress has even more to do with how you deal with a situation than with what the situation is.  We can intentionally reduce (ok, not eliminate) our own stress, no matter the situation.  Learn what works for you, and do it.  Prayer can be very effective.  So can meditation.  Being a biology person, I can also vouch for the fact that simply taking deep, slow breaths and (oddly enough) making yourself smile will calm you and improve your mood.  There’s an odd little feedback loop where if you act as if you’re calm and happy, it convinces your brain to think you’re calmer and happier … so you are.  Sometimes “fake it till you make it” is a real thing.

Pro tip:  All of these suggestions — salt limiting, exercise, and stress control — work even if there Is no emergency situation!  They can reduce or eliminate the need for blood pressure meds in the first place in fact.  A big part of preparedness is taking care of yourself so you’re better able to thrive in any situation.  Why not start now?


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