High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is sometimes called the "silent killer." Although it may frequently be asymptomatic, hypertension can have serious, and even fatal, consequences—so it's important to understand the factors that may put you at risk of the condition, and to make lifestyle choices that lessen it. Read on to find out about one routine activity that many of us do in the bathroom that researchers say could be increasing your risk of developing high blood pressure.
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High blood pressure damages your body over time.
What exactly happens in your body when you suffer from high blood pressure? Blood pressure is "the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels," says the American Heart Association (AHA). "When the heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through a network of tube-shaped blood vessels, which include arteries, veins, and capillaries," they explain.
When this pressure is increased, it forces your heart and blood vessels to work harder. The AHA explains that "over time, the force and friction of high blood pressure damages the delicate tissues inside the arteries," resulting in the formation of plaque. "The more the plaque and damage increases, the narrower (smaller) the insides of the arteries become—raising blood pressure and starting a vicious circle that further harms your arteries, heart and the rest of your body."
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Untreated hypertension can have serious consequences.
When it's not managed, hypertension can cause a host of wide-ranging complications, according to the Mayo Clinic. "The higher the blood pressure and the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the damage," their experts explain. The ramifications of high blood pressure include an increases risk of heart failure and stroke, as well as vision loss, sexual dysfunction, and peripheral artery disease (PAD), reports the AHA. They note that hypertension can also result in kidney disease or failure: "High blood pressure can damage the arteries around the kidneys and interfere with their ability to filter blood effectively."
And while it's often asymptomatic, hypertension can also manifest with symptoms that affect the quality of your everyday life. According to Verywell Health, these include frequent headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath. They also list less common—but worrisome—symptoms such as vision changes, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and decreased appetite.
Since high blood pressure often has no symptoms, it's important to get tested regularly. The Mayo Clinic advises that healthy adults with no risk factors should have a blood pressure screening every two to five years, at minimum. Those who are 40 or over, or who are at higher risk of hypertension, should have their blood pressure checked annually, they say.
High blood pressure has many potential causes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that high blood pressure "usually develops over time," and can result from certain health conditions, including diabetes and obesity. Lack of exercise and a poor diet can also contribute to hypertension. WebMD reports that a potassium deficiency can also be a problem. "Even if you're eating a low-salt diet, you could still have higher blood pressure if you're not also eating enough fruits, veggies, beans, low-fat dairy, or fish," they explain. Other causes may include the medication you're taking—and one surprising oral hygiene habit.
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Using certain types of mouthwash may contribute to hypertension.
Daily brushing and flossing is a vital component of good oral hygiene—not only does it help keep your gums and teeth healthy, it's also been shown to possibly reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, oral cancer, and other serious, chronic conditions. But before you follow your usual bathroom routine with a swish of mouthwash, consider this: A Nov. 2019 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that "frequent regular use of over-the-counter mouthwash was associated with increased risk of hypertension, independent of major risk factors for hypertension and several other potential confounders."
Why? It all comes down to bacteria. "Some oral bacteria can cause periodontal disease and other issues, while other oral bacteria convert dietary nitrate into nitric oxide (NO), which helps maintain normal blood pressure," reports Dentistry Today. "Now, a multi-institutional team of researchers has found that chlorhexidine in mouthwash may kill these good bacteria and raise systolic blood pressure."
Mouthwash can cause other problems, too, such as damage to the teeth and potentially dangerous interactions with certain medications. If you love the feeling of using mouthwash, look for one without chemicals and other harsh ingredients that can interfere with the natural bacterial balance of your mouth.