What Is Hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common condition that will catch up with most people as they age or if you are overweight. Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against the walls of your arteries. When it’s too high, it raises the heart’s workload and can cause serious damage to the arteries. Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
High blood pressure is sometimes called a silent killer because it may have no outward symptoms for years. In fact, one in five people with the condition don’t know they have it. Internally, it can quietly damage the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, and kidneys if left untreated.
High Blood Pressure is the major risk factor for strokes and heart attacks.
What Causes Hypertension?
Normal blood pressure readings will fall below 120/80, while higher results over time can indicate hypertension. In most cases, the underlying cause of hypertension is unknown.
- The top number (systolic) shows the pressure when your heart beats.
- The lower number (diastolic) measures pressure at rest between heartbeats, when the heart refills with blood.
- Occasionally, kidney or adrenal gland disease can lead to hypertension.
Pre-hypertension: A Warning Sign
Almost one-quarter of westerners have pre-hypertension. Their blood pressure is consistently just above the normal level – falling anywhere between 120 and 139 for systolic pressure or 80 to 89 for the diastolic pressure. People in this range have twice the risk of developing heart disease than those with a lower reading. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help lower your blood pressure.
The Hypertension Danger Zone
You have high blood pressure if readings average140/90 or higher – for either number – though you may still have no symptoms. At 180/110 and higher, you may be having a hypertensive crisis. Rest for a few minutes and take your blood pressure again. If it is still very high, call your doctor.
A hypertensive crisis can lead to a stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, or loss of consciousness. Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis can include
- a severe headache,
- nosebleeds, and
- feeling short of breath.
Who Gets High Blood Pressure?
Up to the age of 45, more men have high blood pressure than women. It becomes more common for both men and women as they age, and more women have hypertension by the time they reach 65. You have a greater risk if a close family member has high blood pressure or if you are diabetic.
About 60% of people with diabetes have high blood pressure.
Hypertension and Sodium
Sodium, a major component of salt, can raise blood pressure by causing the body to retain fluid, which leads to a greater burden on the heart. It is recommended to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. You’ll need to check food labels and menus carefully. Processed foods contribute up to 75% of our sodium intake. Canned soups and lunch meats are prime suspects.
Hypertension and Stress
Stress can make your blood pressure spike, but there’s no evidence that it causes high blood pressure as an ongoing condition. However, stress may affect risk factors for heart disease, so it may have an indirect connection to hypertension. Stress may lead to other unhealthy habits, such as a poor diet, alcohol use, or smoking, which can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Hypertension and Weight
Being overweight places a strain on your heart and increases your risk of high blood pressure. That is why diets to lower blood pressure are often also designed to control calories. They typically call for cutting fatty foods and added sugars, while increasing fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and fiber. Even losing 5Kg can make a difference.
Hypertension and Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure, because alcohol tends to dehydrate the body, causing arteries to shrink which restricts healthy blood flow, increasing blood pressure.
Hypertension and Caffeine
If caffeine can make you jittery, it can also raise your blood pressure. Caffeine does the same as alcohol, as it dehydrates the body.
Hypertension and Pregnancy
Gestational hypertension is a kind of high blood pressure that occurs in the second half of pregnancy. Without treatment, it may lead to a serious condition called preeclampsia that endangers both the mother and baby. The condition can limit blood and oxygen flow to the baby and can affect the mother’s kidneys and brain. After the baby is born, the mother’s blood pressure usually returns to its normal level.
Hypertension and Medicine
Cold and flu medicines that contain decongestants are one of several classes of medicine that can cause your blood pressure to rise. Others include pain relievers, steroids, diet pills, birth control pills, and some anti-depressants. If you have high blood pressure, talk to you doctor about what medicines and supplements you are taking that may affect blood pressure.
‘White Coat’ Hypertension
Some people only have a high reading in the doctor’s office, perhaps because they’re nervous. Some will only have blood pressure readings sporadically. Those people may have a higher chance of developing high blood pressure, a recent study shows. To get a more accurate reading, take your blood pressure at home, chart your readings, and share them with your doctor. It is also a good idea to take your home blood pressure monitor for a check of the device and your technique.
Hypertension and Children
While hypertension is more often a problem for older people, even children can have high blood pressure. “Normal” blood pressure varies based on a child’s age, height, and sex, so your doctor will need to tell you if there is a concern. Children are at greater risk if they are overweight or if they have a family history of the illness.
Living With High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is often a life-long condition. It’s important to take drastic steps to reduce and continue to monitor your blood pressure. If you keep it under control, you can reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure.