High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is sometimes called the “silent killer”. Although it can often be asymptomatic, hypertension can have serious and even fatal consequences. It is therefore important to understand the factors that may put you at risk for the disease and to make lifestyle choices that mitigate it. Read on to learn about a routine activity many of us do in the bathroom that researchers believe may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure.
READ NEXT: This is why your high blood pressure isn’t responding to medication.
What exactly happens in your body when you have high blood pressure? Blood pressure is “the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels,” explains the American Heart Association (AHA). “When the heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through a tube-like network of blood vessels, which includes arteries, veins and capillaries,” they explain.
When this pressure increases, it forces your heart and blood vessels to work harder. The AHA explains that “over time, the force and friction of high blood pressure damage the delicate tissues inside the arteries,” causing plaque to form. “As the plaque and damage increases, the interior of the arteries narrows (smaller), which increases blood pressure and starts a vicious cycle that further damages your arteries, your heart and the rest of your body.”
READ NEXT: 4 drugs that raise your blood pressure, according to experts.
When left unmanaged, hypertension can lead to a host of far-reaching complications, according to the Mayo Clinic. “The higher the blood pressure and the longer it remains uncontrolled, the greater the damage,” explain their experts. The ramifications of high blood pressure include an increased risk of heart failure and stroke, as well as vision loss, sexual dysfunction and peripheral arterial disease (PAD), reports the AHA. They note that hypertension can also lead to kidney disease or failure: “High blood pressure can damage the arteries around the kidneys and interfere with their ability to filter blood effectively.”
And although it is often asymptomatic, hypertension can also present with symptoms that affect the quality of your daily 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 is important to get tested regularly. The Mayo Clinic advises healthy adults without risk factors to have their blood pressure tested every two to five years, at a minimum. Those who are 40 or older, or at higher risk for hypertension, should have their blood pressure checked annually, they say.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that high blood pressure “generally develops over time” and can result from certain health conditions, including diabetes and obesity. Lack of exercise and poor diet can also contribute to hypertension. WebMD reports that a potassium deficiency can also be a problem. “Even if you’re on a low-salt diet, you can still have higher blood pressure if you don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, beans, low-fat dairy products, or fish,” they explain. Other causes can include the medications you take and a surprising oral hygiene habit.
For more health news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Daily brushing and flossing are essential parts of good oral hygiene. Not only do they help keep your gums and teeth healthy, but they have also been shown to eventually reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, oral cancer, and other serious chronic diseases. But before you go about your regular bathroom routine with mouthwash, consider this: A November 2019 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that “regular and frequent use of mouthwash in over-the-counter was associated with an increased risk of hypertension, independent of major hypertension risk factors and several other potential confounders.”
Why? It all comes down to bacteria. “Some oral bacteria can cause periodontal disease and other problems, while other oral bacteria convert dietary nitrate to nitric oxide (NO), which helps maintain normal blood pressure,” reports dentistry today. “Now a multi-institutional team of researchers has found that chlorhexidine in mouthwashes can kill these good bacteria and raise systolic blood pressure.”
Mouthwash can also cause other problems, such as damage to teeth and potentially dangerous interactions with certain medications. If you like the feel of using a mouthwash, look for one without chemicals or other harsh ingredients that can interfere with your mouth’s natural bacterial balance.