Here’s a frequently neglected cause for an increasing CT heart scan score: High blood pressure with exercise. Let me explain.
Paul’s blood pressure at rest, sitting in the office or on arising in the morning, or at other relatively peaceful moments: 110/75 to 130/80–all in the conventional normal range.
We put Paul on the treadmill for a stress test. At 10 mets of effort (on the protocol used, this means 3.4 mph treadmill speed at 14 degree incline), Paul’s blood pressure skyrockets to 220/105. That’s really high.
Now, blood pressure is expected to increase with exercise. If it doesn’t rise, that’s abnormal and may, in fact, be a sign of danger. Normally, blood pressure should rise gradually in a stepwise fashion with increasing levels of exercise. But any blood pressure exceeding 170/90 is clearly too high with exercise. (Not to be confused with high blood pressures not involving exercise.) A handful of studies have suggested that a “breakpoint” of 170/90 also predicts heightened risk of heart attack over a long period.)
I see this phenomenon frequently–normal blood pressure at rest, high with exercise. This also suggests that when Paul is stressed, upset, in traffic congestion, under pressure at work, etc., his blood pressure is high during those periods, as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other phenomena of underappreciated high blood pressure, like abnormally thick heart muscle (left ventricular hypertrophy), an enlarged thoracic aorta (visible on your heart scan), left atrium, perhaps even an abnormal EKG or abnormal kidney function (evidenced by an elevated creatinine on a standard blood panel).
Unfortunately, the treatments that reduce blood pressure are “stupid,” i.e., they have no appreciation for what you are doing and they reduce blood pressure all the time, whether or not you’re stressed, exercising, or sleeping.
Blood pressure reduction should begin with weight loss, exercise, reduction of saturated fats and processed carbohydrates (esp. wheat), magnesium replacement, vitamin D replacement. Think about CoQ10. After this, blood pressure medication might be necessary.
The message: Watch out for the blood pressures when you have a stress test. Or, if you have a friend who is adept at getting blood pressures, get a blood pressure immediately upon ceasing exercise. It should be no higher than 170/90.
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