Peripheral Artery/Vascular Disease and Hypertension – My Scary Realization

Disclaimer: I know nothing about either of these subjects other that what I’ve researched the past few weeks. Don’t take any of my ramblings to be any type of medical advice. Rather, the point of this post is what was finally my wakeup call.

Last year around this time I went to the doctor for my annual checkup. The waiting room was really stressful with a screaming child, someone talking about throwing up all night, and a nasty cough. After sitting for over 45 minutes, I was annoyed I had waited so long, stressed out by the screaming child, and felt like I was for sure going to get the cough and stomach bug in the waiting room. In short, it seemed silly to go to the doctor only to become more stressed and get sick. So when I was finally called back, I wasn’t in a good place mentally.

When the nurse took my blood pressure and saw it was high, and then looked at me like I was crazy when I tried to explain how stressed I was, I was even more frustrated. I hate that people can’t understand the situation others are in.

Anyway, the nurse wanted to talk about my high blood pressure. I went home and took my blood pressure several times a day for three or four weeks. It always came in around 105-115/60-75. So definitely low enough. The only time it was high was when I was SUPER-stressed at work. I’d check it and it would be in the 140-150/80-95 range. So obviously stress triggered high blood pressure but it returned to normal when I was relaxed.

Until it didn’t.

The reason I took my blood pressure recently was because I wanted to check my pulse. I’d eaten Chinese food and was laying in bed feeling terrible, heart pounding. I assumed the high blood pressure was due to the Chinese food. Except I found out, it probably wasn’t. A few days later when I felt fine, my blood pressure was still high. And I could never get it to come back down.

I’ve talked some about giving up cardio back when I was really getting into lifting. I blame that poor decision. I blame gaining weight. I possibly blame a shift in my diet. I’m not sure blame matters, though, as much as figuring out a solution.

Anyway, that’s where my blood pressure story starts. I couldn’t ever figure out what had changed or what caused it. And in the meantime, I was having a bunch of problems with my calves cramping and stopping me from getting back into running. (I thought weight loss was the key to my blood pressure.) I blamed my calf cramps while walking on magnesium deficiency. But I was way past the worst of the deficiency, and I was still having problems walking very far without cramps. Over time, my cramping had improved. I could walk far enough that they would loosen up and I’d feel really good.

On a whim, I Googled, “Calf cramps and hypertension.”

Bad. Idea.

Or good idea? I’m not sure.

It came back with all of these terrifying articles on peripheral artery/vascular disease. And while all of the symptoms didn’t apply, it suddenly all made sense. Blood pressure is high because the heart is having a harder time pumping blood out and back in. It’s having a harder time pumping blood out because the blood vessels/veins/arteries are constricted. And I’m seeing it most in my extremities.

Holy crap.

I’ve never felt this old.

And, yes, I’m scared to go to the doctor. First, because I don’t want to go on blood pressure meds. Second, because I don’t want this in my chart. Third, because, honestly, I don’t want them to tell me this isn’t a thing.

My focus has shifted back from weight loss to health. I think that’s the right place to be, anyway. I’m going to keep walking as much as I can. Keep walking through the pain, rather than walking to it and stopping. Maybe I’ll stop and stretch. But I want to keep going. Farther distances. Harder intensity. More jogging intervals. Some sprinting intervals. Really test my calves and see whether this is an issue of so much tension due to magnesium, or if it really is PAD/PVD. From what I can tell, this is a good enough remedy at this point. There can be medications, but my blood pressure isn’t technically high enough for anything for blood pressure, and if what I have is PAD/PVD, it isn’t bad enough I’d need medication. But it also sounds like once you have PAD/PVD, you can’t cure it. You can work to improve, but it never goes away.

That’s scary. Seriously.

I know I’m almost thirty-five, but it’s weird. You do kind of carry that indestructible ego with you. I need to put that away. I have made a lot of improvements. Although there are still a lot to make.

Improvements I need to make:

  • Eating out- I think I eat out far less than the average person. But I still use it a lot as a fallback on nights I’m too tired to cook or don’t want to make a mess. Or just because of bad planning.
  • Working out – This is actually something I struggle less with, but keep wavering on my “plan.” Does it matter what I do? Or just that I do something? Is my intensity enough? Not enough? I might be over-thinking this. For now, my improvement will be in more walking, continued work to get to jogging, and pushing past calf-related pain. Pausing when I need to stretch, then get back to it. Cramps are no longer a reason to call it a night.

Things I have improved:

  • Drinking – I hardly drink anymore. In the past I was drinking a lot.
  • Smoking – I was never a smoker, but I did enough social smoking it wasn’t good. Smoking is one of the first things listed with PAD/PVD. I’m glad I’ve already quit. I haven’t had a single puff of a cigarette in over four months. And before that it had been three months. (I had one night I caved and had one. So one cigarette in the last seven months, not too bad! I don’t even feel compelled to smoke anymore. Although that may not always be true.)
  • Sleep – I try really hard to get enough sleep. I do much better on weekends. I find myself fighting sleep because I don’t want to go to work. But overall, put sleep as a bigger priority than ever.
  • Supplements – I go back and forth on this, but right now, every supplement I’m taking has a meaning. And I try to be careful of supplements you can over do. I’ve recently cut back my vitamin D supplements. Before I’d just take a huge handful and hope for the best. Now I take them intentionally and know what each one is for.
  • Stress – Every week I try to focus on handling stress better. Reminding myself if someone’s in a bad mood that I didn’t cause it and that it’s their issue, not mine. I try to avoid stressful situations when I can. And remember that very few things are worth the drama they bring.
  • Eating – Although this is my number one thing I still want to work on, I feel like my eating focuses more on health now than it ever has. I went on a bender where I was TOO focused on health, and got a little neurotic. But now I feel like that’s leveled off and I really have made huge strides. It was always my biggest problem area, but I’ve really done well. I emotionally eat a lot less, and I’m aware when I do it.

I’m going to focus on making the best decisions I can IF I eat out. Avoid foods we all know are bad – fried foods, overly processed foods, tons of breads or grains that aren’t rice, etc. And walking every single day for at least two miles. It’s sad, but my parents are better about this than me. They walk two miles every single day, no matter the weather. Sometimes they walk at the mall if the weather’s too hot or too cold. But it’s a priority for them. The longer-term goal is to work back into jogging/running. But for now, walking every single day is the goal.

And the measurable goals are:

  • No more pain while walking. No one my age should have leg pain while walking.
  • Healthy blood pressure levels. Again, I’m too young for this crap.
  • Ability to run two miles without pain. (Obviously this goal comes after the walking goal.)
  • Healthy cholesterol levels.
  • Improved lifting strength. (The muscle fatigue sometimes causes issues with lifting. Everything’s harder when you’re in pain.)
  • Weight loss – I know I need this, but I don’t want to use it as an excuse for lack of accomplishing the above. The above need to come regardless of weight, since weight loss seems to be unattainable right now.

Also, as I say all of this, it’s highly likely PAD/PVD isn’t even the root of my problem. But it’s scary enough that I kind of want to think it is. I know most of the time you google your symptoms and Google tells you you have cancer or some other terminal disorder. And watching Grey’s Anatomy is hardly helping the situation. I’m 34 years old. Overweight, but active. I eat mostly healthy, and my last cholesterol test actually showed my cholesterol levels lower than they’d ever been. All that said, seeing your own mortality is good if it helps you stay focused on health, right? (You know, barring full-on obsessive mode, which I don’t think is healthy.)

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