Silent Killer

High blood pressure takes a front seat on new FMCSA regulation form.

Because we usually don’t see it, the blood flowing through our veins is often something we take for granted. But high blood pressure, known as the “silent killer,” is something you shouldn’t let escape your notice.

Blood pressure is a measure of how easily your blood can flow through your arteries. Certain nerve impulses cause your arteries to become smaller or larger, changing the pressure at which your blood flows. When your arteries contract or become clogged, the pressure builds and strains your heart to pump blood through them. Over time, this strain may damage these blood vessels and affect your kidneys, heart and brain. These organs can handle strain for a long time, so no symptoms may appear for years.

For truckers, high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can be a danger to your health and an inconvenience in your career. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has recently revised its driver physical exam form and re-evaluated its recommendations to medical examiners for driver’s qualifications (See chart). Beginning this month, the form must be used in place of the old one. These new recommendations could mean more frequent re-certifications for drivers with high blood pressure.

The FMCSA sends copies of the forms to medical examiners annually but says it is up to drivers to ensure their doctor is informed about these recommendations.

According to the American Heart Association, one out of four U.S. adults has high blood pressure, but of these, only approximately one-third actually know they have it.

High blood pressure is the main risk factor for stroke, heart attack and kidney failure, according to the AHA. It can affect anyone, but the problem is made worse when combined with obesity, smoking, high levels of blood cholesterol or diabetes, especially if you are over the age of 35.

In 90 to 95 percent of high blood pressure cases, the cause is unknown. The other 5 to 10 percent of cases involve abnormalities that already exist in your arteries and can usually be corrected through surgery, according to the AHA.

It is important to have your blood pressure routinely checked to catch the problem early on.

Your blood pressure is checked using an instrument called a sphygmomanometer, a rubber cuff that is wrapped around your upper arm and inflated until it momentarily stops the blood flow in a large artery. The air is then released while the person measuring your blood pressure uses a stethoscope to listen to the pulse of the blood through the artery. Systolic pressure is the force in the arteries when your heart is beating and the first number in your blood pressure reading. Diastolic pressure is taken when the heart is at rest.

If you initially have a high rating, you’ll need to monitor it carefully. If you have a normal reading, your medical exam every two years will be sufficient.

High blood pressure can be lowered by diet and exercise or by prescription medications. Some people can be treated by losing weight, eating properly and getting the right amount of exercise. But healthy behaviors alone won’t work for everyone. Doctors sometimes prescribe diuretics to rid your body of excess fluids and sodium (often used as initial therapy for most patients), beta-blockers to reduce the heart rate and the heart’s output of blood, and vasodilators, which cause the muscle walls of the blood vessels to relax and allow the vessels to widen.

Your doctor will be able to prescribe the best medication for your case. If you do have to control your blood pressure with medication, you will most likely continue to depend on this medication throughout your life, even if it is in smaller doses, because it only lowers your blood pressure while you are taking it, according to the AHA.

Most people are successfully treated and live long, healthy lives, says the Blood Pressure Association.
Kristen Buck

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