One of the most common health conditions we frequently talk about is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
This is for good reason, as it is known to be a contributor to about 75 million deaths every year and over 1 billion people live with the condition around the world.
The world may be dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and other conditions may seem to be at the back burner, but that should not be the case. We must still ensure to keep the rest of our health in check.
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What Exactly Is Blood Pressure?
We need blood to be circulated around the body, and pressure has to be applied to do this. Blood pressure is the force that the circulating blood exerts on the walls of the arteries, which are blood vessels.
This pressure can increase momentarily when we have undergone some form of stress- mental or physical. However, hypertension occurs when this pressure is elevated over a period of time.
What Do The Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?
Usually, blood pressure is expressed as two numbers, in a seeming fraction, followed by millimeter mercury (mmHg).
The first (systolic/ maximum pressure) number signifies the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats.
The second (diastolic/ minimum pressure) number signifies the pressure in the vessels when the heart rests between beats.
The readings are expressed in mmHg (millimeter mercury) which represents the amount of mercury pumped.
What Is A Normal Reading?
According to the American Heart Association, normal readings for the systolic pressure should be between 90mmHg and 120mmHg while the diastolic should be between 60mmHg and 80mmHg.
Normal Blood Pressure Range – 90/60mmHg – 120/80mmHg
Hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure is measured on two different days and the systolic blood pressure readings on both days is greater than 139mmHg and/or the diastolic blood pressure readings on both days is greater than 89mmHg. The systolic pressure is crucial to determining the risk of heart disease and other chronic health conditions.
Hypertension – Two or more readings of at least 139/89mmHg
Why Is Hypertension So Dangerous?
It is commonly known as ‘The silent killer’ as it doesn’t typically show symptoms making it difficult to know when you have it. In fact, most people find out they have high blood pressure when they go in for a routine check.
For this reason, it is important to check your blood pressure regularly.
When symptoms do show up, they include:
- Buzzing in the ears
- Morning headaches
- Changes in vision
When left uncontrolled, hypertension can lead to atherosclerosis where the arteries are thickened with plaque and this leads to serious diseases involving the heart, kidneys and eyes.
It can also cause a stroke, which is due to a burst or block in the arteries that supply the brain.
What Causes Hypertension?
Hypertension may be due to causes that aren’t known and this is primary or essential hypertension.
On the flip side, up to 90% of the time, secondary hypertension occurs and this is caused by underlying conditions. Some of these are diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing syndrome, sleep apnea, hyperthyroidism, pregnancy.
Am I At Risk Of Having Hypertension?
Having underlying health conditions increase the likelihood of having hypertension. Also, there are lifestyle factors that can increase this risk. These include:
- Taking alcohol and tobacco: Consuming moderate to high quantities of alcohol and tobacco-containing products like cigarettes, cigars, can lead to an increase in blood pressure and chances of hypertension.
- Gender: Before menopause, women are at less risk of having hypertension than men.
- Age: With an increase in age, plaques form in the arteries, making them stiffer which leads to an increase in blood pressure. Hypertension is prevalent in people that are older than 45 years old.
- Weight: Being overweight or obese raises the risk of hypertension. Unhealthy diet and other conditions can lead to an increase in weight.
- Family history: Hypertension tends to run in families and if both parents have it, one has even higher risk.
Does This Happen Only To Old People?
No, it does not.
Although persistent high blood pressure is common in the older population, younger people can have hypertension.
The CDC estimates that 10% of people aged 12-19 have elevated high blood pressure and 4% have hypertension. Thankfully, this can be prevented and managed.
How Can I Prevent Hypertension?
Taking certain steps to better health can keep your heart healthy, prevent hypertension and its complications. These include:
- Eat Healthy: Consciously choose to eat healthier foods and snacks. Make sure to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables daily. Eat foods rich in healthy fats and omega-3. Stay away from foods that are high in carbohydrates, salt, and saturated fats. Limit intake of processed foods as they tend to be rich in salt.
- Stay Active: Living a sedentary life is unhealthy and staying physically active helps improve our health. Adults should target 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day to help keep weight and blood pressure down.
- Maintain low-stress levels: In our ever-busy world, it is easy to get caught up in the motions. However, mental stress can lead to other conditions that cause an increase in blood pressure. Dealing with this means taking steps to make sure that we take on only as much work as we can handle, get enough rest- physical and mental daily.
- Reduce your alcohol intake: If you are a moderate to heavy drinker, you should reduce your alcohol intake. Men should not take more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day and women, no more than 1 daily.
One alcoholic drink is approximately:
36cl of beer
12cl of wine
3cl of spirits
- Do not smoke: Smoking is terrible for heart and lung health, and puts you at risk of getting a stroke. If you don’t smoke, it is best not to start.
If I Have Hypertension, Can It Be Managed?
Hypertension is a well-studied condition and can there are many methods for its management and treatment are diverse.
Lifestyle changes (as mentioned in preventive measures) are the first line of management for people living with hypertension.
When diagnosed, medication will be prescribed by the doctor for use. These drugs include:
- Diuretics which decrease the amount of fluid in your body such as including furosemide, bendroflumethiazide, chlorthalidone and indapamide
- Alpha-blockers which keep the blood vessels relaxed such as prazosin, doxazosin
- Beta-blockers block substances that tighten blood vessels and reduce heart rate such as atenolol, carvedilol, metoprolol
- Calcium-channel blockers which relax blood vessels like nifedipine, amlodipine.
- Central agonists that decrease the blood vessels’ ability to tense up or contract such as methyldopa, clonidine.
- Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors which reduce blood pressure by blocking neurotransmitters in the brain such as reserpine
- Vasodilators cause the relaxation of walls of the arterioles which allow blood to flow through better such as hydralazine, minoxidil
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors which block the formation of angiotensin II enzyme which in turn relaxes the blood vessels to reduce blood pressure such as lisinopril, enalapril, captopril
- Angiotensin receptor blockers that block the effects of angiotensin, a chemical that causes the arteries to become narrow. such as valsartan, candesartan, telmisartan.
Is There A Cure For Hypertension?
For people with primary hypertension, it can mostly be managed but not cured. Hence, most patients will have to take these measures, and attend regular medical follow up, usually for life.
People who live with secondary hypertension, which is due to other health conditions, may have their blood pressure return to normal if the underlying cause is dealt with.
Hypertension is a condition which is frequently symptomless but can lead to major medical complications. It is a chronic disease.
Making healthy lifestyle changes and taking medications as prescribed are the best ways to keep your blood pressure levels controlled.
Checking your blood pressure frequently, especially as you grow older, is important.