With modern life complexities becoming more evident, instances of lifestyle health conditions like hypertension have been on the rise. According a recent report, the number of people living with hypertension is estimated to reach 1.56 billion worldwide by the year 2025. In the US, more than 75% of the people are estimated to be living with hypertension. Deaths due to hypertension-related cardiovascular diseases have also been on the rise. Lifestyle changes, dietary factors, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyles are primary reasons associated with the increasing prevalence of this medical condition.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension in layman’s language is nothing more than having high blood pressure. Blood pressure is defined as the force exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels. The intensity with which the blood pushes against the blood vessels depends on the cardiac functioning and the strength of the blood vessels. Hypertension is a medical condition wherein the blood pressure of an individual is more than 140 over 90 mmHg. Anything below this is considered normal, and patients feel better once their blood pressure is brought below the clinical threshold.
High blood pressure or hypertension can sometimes go unnoticed but when left untreated, can have serious health implications resulting in medical emergencies such as a heart attack or a stroke.
Types of hypertension
There are primarily two types of hypertension:
- Primary (essential) hypertension - In the cases of most adults, there are no significant causes of high blood pressure. Blood pressure or hypertension that progressively develops over the years is called as primary hypertension.
- Secondary hypertension - In a number of instances, individuals may be experiencing high blood pressure due to an underlying condition. Such a condition is known as secondary hypertension. The symptoms of this hypertension can appear suddenly and cause the blood pressure to rise.
Associated risk factors
There are a number of risk factors associated with hypertension. Some of them include:
Age factor: Age is one of the most crucial factors that lead to hypertension. In men, high blood pressure is likely to occur around 45 years of age or more. Women are more susceptible to hypertension after 67 years of age.
Family history: To a large extent high blood pressure is a hereditary disorder that can run in families for generations.
Obesity: Obesity is one of the leading factors associated with hypertension. As one gains weight, the body requires more blood to bring the necessary amount of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Due to increased volumes being required by the blood vessels, considerably high pressures are built up in the vessels that further pressurize the artery walls. Leading a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise tends to put people at a higher risk of hypertension.
Smoking & tobacco abuse: Tobacco consumption is known to harm the body in not one but a number of ways. In the long term, tobacco can cause significant damage to the artery walls due to a narrowing impact on the arteries. The narrowing of the arteries thereby increases the pressure of blood flow and hence results in higher blood pressure.
Excess salt: Excessive salt in the diet causes fluid retention in the body which is a leading cause of hypertension.
Lack of potassium: Potassium is an important mineral required by the body. If the body does not get ample potassium through diets or supplements, it tends to undergo an imbalance in the cells that could result in excess accumulation of sodium in the blood stream.
Vitamin D deficiency: Vitamin D deficiency in the diet can be also be a cause attributed to hypertension. Vitamin D has a negative affect on certain enzymes produced by the kidneys, which in turn impacts blood pressure.
Excessive alcohol consumption: Long term alcohol consumption causes changes in blood pressure levels in the body, which results in hypertension. Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart.
Stress: Stress management is an important key in preventing hypertension. Higher levels of stress lead to increased blood pressure, and blood pressure can increase even more from unhealthy ways of fighting stress such as binging, smoking or alcohol consumption.
Certain chronic conditions: Serious medical conditions such as kidney diseases, sleep apnea and diabetes can lead to hypertension. It is also common for women to develop high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Most cases of hypertension are associated with adults, however in rare cases it can affect children as well. Poor lifestyle, lack of physical activity and medical conditions associated with the heart and the kidney are some of the causes that lead to high blood pressure in children.
High blood pressure is a disease that can exist in a dormant state among many individuals, and the body may show no signs or symptoms at all. This can be very risky, because when a disease shows no symptoms it is commonly left untreated. When hypertension is left untreated, individuals are put at the risk of developing serious illnesses such as heart disease.
Recording the blood pressure: The first step to diagnosing hypertension or high blood pressure is measuring blood pressure using a stethoscope. Blood pressure may be monitored by either a doctor or by using a home diagnostic blood pressure monitoring kit, which is easily available. For diagnosing blood pressure, both systolic blood pressure (higher blood pressure level) and diastolic blood pressure (lower blood pressure level) are considered.
Medical history: To reach a conclusive diagnosis, the doctor first examines the medical history of the patient, and then questions the patient to find out details around a history of blood pressure in the family. A long term history of high blood pressure in the family is generally a major cause of hypertension in the individual.
Physical examination by the treating doctor: Apart from checking the blood pressure levels using devices like a stethoscope, the doctor also conducts a physical examination by the checking the nerves of the patient.
Measuring devices: There are certain tests like the echocardiogram and the electrocardiogram that are used to measure ultrasound waves that provide pictures of the heart. They help in determining the condition of the heart so that the heart’s actions can be studied for detailed diagnosis and future treatments.
Symptoms of hypertension
In many cases, hypertension can go unnoticed. There aren't many specific symptoms that can clearly point to hypertension. The disease is caused by fluctuations, as the body’s pressure levels may not be constant or consistent for a long period of time. Hence, frequent checking of blood pressure is often the best way to understand blood pressure levels in the body. In cases where the blood pressure levels are way too high and rather chronic, patients may experience headaches that last longer, occur more frequently and cause dizziness. In rare cases, people may also experience bleeding in the nose.
In a few instances, appearance of symptoms may be indicative of an emergency situation requiring immediate medical attention. Severe symptoms may include: unbearable headaches; anxiety; breathlessness and severe nose bleeding. In such a situation, one must perform at least two blood pressure readings and if both are consistently high; a doctor must be consulted immediately. In the case of pregnant women, when high blood pressure symptoms are experienced, a doctor must be immediately contacted for assistance and treatment.