Hypertension, also referred to as high blood pressure, is a critical health condition that is characterized by consistently elevated arterial blood pressure readings.
The force that the blood applies to the artery walls as the heart circulates blood throughout the body is known as blood pressure. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is expressed as two numbers:
- Systolic pressure (the higher number)
- Diastolic pressure (the lower number)
The average range for normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. When an individual’s blood pressure continuously reads at or reaches more than 130/80 mmHg, hypertension is discovered.
When blood pressure levels become too high, people with hypertension experience some symptoms as mentioned below.
- Chest Pain: Due to enough strain on the heart, hypertension can cause discomfort or chest pain.
- Fatigue: Persistent or unexplained fatigue is occasionally linked to high blood pressure.
- Shortness of Breath: People with hypertension may face issues in breathing due to the increased strain on the heart.
- Dizziness: High blood pressure may cause dizziness or lightheadedness, particularly when standing up suddenly.
- Nosebleeds: Some individuals with extremely high blood pressure may experience nosebleeds.
- Blurred Vision: High blood pressure affects the blood vessels in the eyes. Thus, it can result in blurriness.
- Headaches: Severe or persistent headaches can occasionally be a sign of high blood pressure.
Hypertension can be categorized into two main types:
- Primary Hypertension (Essential Hypertension): It is the most common type of high blood pressure, and almost 95% of cases account for this type. Generally, it has no specific cause, and it develops due to genetics and lifestyle. Primary hypertension tends to develop gradually over many years.
- Secondary Hypertension: This type of hypertension occurs due to any underlying health condition. Secondary hypertension accounts for about 5-10% of cases and usually develops more suddenly than primary hypertension. Basically, its levels are higher than primary hypertension.
There are several causes associated with the development of hypertension. The major causes include:
- Age: Hypertension generally develops in people over 60 years since blood vessels become less flexible and lose elasticity.
- Physical Inactivity: Leading a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of developing hypertension.
- Family History: The probability of having hypertension is increased by a family history of the disorder.
- Obesity: Excessive weight overburdens the heart and blood vessels which may increase the risk of developing hypertension.
- High Salt Intake:Excessive salt consumption can cause fluid retention and raise blood pressure.
- Stress: Chronic stress can raise blood pressure, especially if harmful coping techniques like overeating, smoking, or binge drinking are used as a result.
- Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to hypertension.
Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to several health issues over time, which include:
- Heart Disease: Angina, heart attacks, and heart failure may result from this.
- Stroke: A stroke can be the result of weakened or clogged blood arteries in the brain brought on by high blood pressure.
- Aneurysm: An aneurysm (a bulging in a blood vessel's wall) can develop as a result of weakening blood vessels brought on by hypertension.
- Cognitive Decline: Uncontrolled hypertension can contribute to cognitive decline and dementia by affecting blood flow to the brain and damaging blood vessels.
- Kidney Damage: The kidneys face difficulties in filtering waste from the blood due to high blood pressure.
- Sexual Dysfunction: Hypertension can lead to reduced blood flow to the genitals, and thus, leading to sexual dysfunction.
Treatment typically involves a combination of lifestyle modifications and medications.
- Lifestyle Changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle is key to managing hypertension. Some of the key lifestyle modifications include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Reducing sodium intake
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking
- Managing stress
- Calcium channel blockers
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
- ACE inhibitors
Preventing hypertension, or high blood pressure, involves adopting a healthy lifestyle and managing risk factors. Below are some prevention steps that you can take to lower the risk of developing hypertension.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Losing weight may not put pressure on your heart and blood arteries, thus, reducing the chances of developing hypertension.
- Eat a Balanced Diet: Go for consuming a balanced diet with whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels and can contribute to high blood pressure.
- Manage Stress: Chronic stress can lead to unhealthy habits that increase the risk of hypertension.
- Limit Sodium Intake: Opt for fresh, unprocessed foods, and use herbs and spices to flavor your meals instead of salt.
- Limit Alcohol Consumption: Overindulging in alcohol can increase blood pressure and accelerate the onset of hypertension, thus, limit its consumption.
- Exercise Regularly: Regular physical activity reduces the risk of getting hypertension. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, and more.