If the pressure in the arteries is too high, it is called high blood pressure. Blood pressure that remains high over time is called hypertension.
High blood pressure is common especially in middle-aged and elderly people and once it develops, it can last for life.
The heart and circulatory system become strained when the blood pressure is increased causing damage to other parts of the body.
The heart pumps out blood into the body under a certain pressure. The pressure rises and falls with every heartbeat. Blood pressure I recorded as two numbers: one number above or in front the other.
- The top number is called systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in the arteries when the heart pumps out blood.
- The bottom number is called diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in the arteries when the heart fills with blood.
Blood pressure may vary in the same individual at different times and there are many factors that can affect it.
Causes and Risk Factors of Hypertension
The exact cause or causes of hypertension is unknown but there are several factors that are associated with this condition. These factors include:
- Being overweight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Very high salt intake
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Some medicines i.e. birth control pills
- Chronic kidney disease
- Lack of physical activity
- Insufficient potassium, magnesium and calcium
- Too much alcohol intake
- Genetics or family history of hypertension
- Thyroid and adrenal problems or tumours
Factors that Influence Blood Pressure
- Amount of salt in the body
- Volume of fluid in the body
- Hormone levels including aldosterone and adrenaline
- Size and condition of arteries
- Amount of blood pumped by the heart
- Condition of the nervous system and the kidneys
Symptoms of Hypertension
Hypertension does not always present symptoms and about 33% of all people with this condition don’t know that they have high blood pressure. In fact, they may not know of it for years. For this reason, hypertension is also called the ‘silent disease’.
It is best to undergo periodic blood pressure screenings even if no symptoms are apparent. Monitoring your blood pressure regularly is also important if you have a family history of hypertension or if your blood pressure has ever been high or above the normal range.
Severe hypertension or very high blood pressure may show some symptoms though and these include:
- Blood in the urine
- Fatigue or conclusion
- Chest pains
- Irregular heartbeat
- Severe heartbeats
- Vision problems
- Breathing problems
Tests for Hypertension
You can have your blood pressure measured by a health care provider or you can buy a blood pressure monitor for your home.
A sphygmomanometer measures blood pressure, this consist of a pump, arm cuff, dial, valve and stethoscope.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and is written systolic over diastolic i.e. 120 over 80 or 120/80 mm Hg. If your blood pressure is 120 to 139/80 to 89, you have prehypertension. Blood pressure greater than 140/90 is hypertension.
One high reading of blood pressure does not mean you have hypertension. Blood pressure may increase or decrease so it is necessary to measure your blood pressure at different times while resting. In order to diagnose hypertension, at least 3 readings that are elevated are required.
Aside from reading your blood pressure, your physician will also inquire about your medical history, family history (if a close relative has hypertension) and assess your risk factors.
A physical exam will also be conducted. Your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to your heart for any abnormal sounds and to determine if your arteries are working normally or partially blocked. Your pulse points will also be examined to determine if they are weak or absent.
Other tests may be recommended by your doctor if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure.
- Echocardiogram – ultrasound waves are used to provide pictures of the heart’s valves and chambers in order to study the pumping action of the heart. The chambers and wall thickness of the heart will also be measured.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – this test measures electrical activity, rhythm and rate of heartbeat through electrodes that are attached to your chest, arms and legs.
Since hypertension can cause heart disease you may also want to be tested for heart disease.
Treatment for Hypertension
When it comes to treating high blood pressure, there are a lot of medicines that can be used:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Alpha blockers
- Beta blockers
- Central alpha agonists
- Renin inhibitors, including aliskiren (Tekturna)
- Calcium channel blockers
Aside from medications, there are also ways to control your blood pressure and these can be suggested by your health care provider in addition to taking medicines:
- Maintain a heart-healthy diet
- Drink plenty of water
- Exercise regularly
- Limit the amount of salt you intake (less than 1500 mg per day)
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Quit smoking
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Reduce stress
- Keep track of your blood pressure
Hypertension can be controlled with lifestyle changes and medications most of the time.
When to Call Your Doctor
You must see your doctor regularly if you have hypertension.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with hypertension, it is still important to have your blood pressure check during your annual checkup, especially if you have a family history of this condition.
If you are monitoring your blood pressure at home and it remains high, call your doctor. You should also call your doctor if you show the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Vision changes
- Chest pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive sweating
Prevention of Hypertension
- If you are over 18, have your blood pressure checked regularly
- Avoid smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
- Eat healthy
- Exercise regularly
- Manage stress
Lose weight if you are overweight