What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. This condition occurs when a person’s blood pressure rises to very high levels. Of course, these high levels are usually very unhealthy. Your blood pressure means the quantity of blood that is flowing through your blood vessels and the level of resistance offered by your blood vessels while your heart is pumping.
Narrow arteries have a high level of resistance. This means the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure. Sustained blood pressure may cause problems with your health, as well as heart disease.
High blood pressure is a common condition. According to the American College of Cardiology, at least 50% of American adults may be hypertensive.
Hypertension doesn’t occur at once. It develops gradually – taking over several years before one can start experiencing the symptoms. However, even when there are no symptoms, hypertension can damage your organs and blood vessels, mostly the kidneys, eyes, heart, and brain.
The key to efficient management is early detection. Taking your blood pressure readings regularly can help you detect any alterations to your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high at the time of measurement, your doctor may advise that you check it again after a few weeks. With this, your healthcare provider can determine whether your blood pressure is constantly elevated or has returned to normal levels.
High blood pressure may be treated with a combination of prescription medication and healthy lifestyle modifications. If it is not treated on time, you may suffer complications, the major ones being heart attack and stroke.
What causes high blood pressure?
Do you know that high blood pressure is of two types? Yes! And the type is determined by the causes.
Primary hypertension: This is also known as essential high blood pressure. It does not have a precise cause. It develops over many years.
Secondary hypertension: In some cases, high blood pressure may be caused by a pre-existing health condition. Such is referred to as secondary hypertension. Secondary hypertension has a sudden onset and is usually more severe than primary hypertension. Risk factors for secondary hypertension include:
- Kidney disease
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Thyroid conditions
- Tumors of the adrenal gland
- Congenital defects in the blood vessels
- Amphetamines, cocaine, and other illegal drugs
- Some medications like over-the-counter analgesics, decongestants, cold remedies, and birth control pills.
How do I know that I have high blood pressure?
The thing with high blood pressure is that it is mostly a silent condition. In most cases, the patients may not notice symptoms. Symptoms usually show up after the disease has built up to a very severe stage – that’s when the symptoms become obvious.
Common symptoms of high blood pressure include:
- Shortness of breath
- Visual changes
- Chest pain
- Blood in the urine
- Visual changes
You see, these symptoms are very important, and require urgent medical attention. Not every hypertensive patient may experience the symptoms. However, waiting for these symptoms to occur may result in fatalities.
Checking your blood pressure regularly is key to knowing whether you have hypertension or not. Many doctors offer free blood pressure readings anytime you have an appointment with them.
You must discuss your risks with your doctor so that they can arrange for you to have regular blood pressure readings.
Let’s take, for example, those who have a history of high blood pressure or heart disease in their families. Such people may need to check their blood pressure at least twice per year. With this, you can manage any possible issues before complications set in.
Complications of high blood pressure
High blood pressure has several complications. High pressure can damage the walls of your blood vessels and your organs. The extent of damage increases just like the blood pressure increases.
Complications of high blood pressure include:
- Stroke or heart attack
- Heart failure
- A weakness of the blood vessels supplying your kidneys
- Metabolic syndrome
How is high blood pressure diagnosed?
When you go for a consultation, your doctor will inquire from you about your medical history. He or she will also do a physical examination. They will measure your blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer.
Blood pressure measurement is categorized into two:
- Normal blood pressure: The normal blood pressure is 120/80 and below.
- Elevated blood pressure: The systolic pressure ranges from 120-129 mmHg while the diastolic pressure is below 80 mmHg. Elevated blood pressure may worsen if not arrested on time. This kind of blood pressure is also known as prehypertension.
- Stage 1 hypertension: The systolic pressure ranges from 130-139 mmHg while the diastolic pressure ranges from 80-89 mmHg.
- Stage 2 hypertension: This is a severer form of hypertension. The systolic pressure rises to 140 mmHg and above while the diastolic pressure reaches a value of 90 mmHg.
- Hypertensive crisis: This is an emergency. At this point, the blood pressure measurement has exceeded 180/120 mmHg. Urgent medical attention is required at this time.
You see, both the systolic and diastolic pressures are important. However, for those above the age of 50, systolic pressure is more important. People who are above 65 years of age usually experience what is called isolated systolic hypertension. Here, the systolic pressure is high (usually above 130 mmHg), while the diastolic is normal (not above 80 mmHg).
How is hypertension treated?
You can manage your blood pressure by modifying your lifestyle. Leading a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of hypertension. If you’re already hypertensive, it helps return your blood pressure to normal levels. Lifestyle modification practices may include:
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a diet that contains less salt
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Maintaining a healthy weight (for those that are obese or overweight).
High blood pressure can also be managed with medications. These include:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors such as captopril, benazepril, and lisinopril.
- Diuretics such as chlorthalidone, and hydrochlorothiazide
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers like losartan, and candesartan
- Calcium channel blockers including diltiazem and amlodipine.
Other medications that may be used for treating high blood pressure include:
- Alpha blockers like prazosin and doxazosin
- Beta-blockers including atenolol and acebutolol
- Vasodilators like hydralazine and minoxidil
“New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension.” American College of Cardiology, 13 Nov. 2017, www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2017/11/08/11/47/mon-5pm-bp-guideline-aha-2017.
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