What is hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a serious medical condition that occurs when the force of the blood pumping through and against the walls of your arteries is too strong. It is the most common cardiovascular disease. This is a very common condition, which affects millions of patients worldwide - even children and teenagers. It is normal for everyone to have an occasional period of high blood pressure, and these periods can be brought on by events such as stress or exercise. However chronic hypertension can be very dangerous and can lead to more serious conditions, and it is one of the leading causes of strokes and heart attacks.
Measuring blood pressure
Blood pressure is measured as two numbers - systolic and diastolic.Systolic is the top, higher number and is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and fills them with blood. The second and lower number is the diastolic pressure and is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. Normal blood pressure in healthy adults is around 120/80. Pre-hypertension is between 120/80 to 140/90. Hypertension is diagnosed when the blood pressure is consistently at 140/90 or higher.
Hypertension is commonly called “the silent killer” because it rarely causes identifiable symptoms. Unless patients have regular checkups, they may never know they have high blood pressure. However, if left untreated, hypertension may cause vision problems; damage the arteries, heart, brain and kidneys; and may lead to heart attack, stroke and other serious and possibly fatal conditions such as kidney failure. Patients with severe hypertension of consistent 180/120, which is considered hypertensive crisis, are said to have “malignant hypertension”. This is a very dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention. This condition may develop rapidly and swiftly cause severe organ damage.
High blood pressure is more likely in people who:
- Have a family history of hypertension, heart disease or diabetes
- Are African-American
- Are over the age of 55
- Are overweight or not physically active
- Drink alcohol excessively
- Eat a diet high in sodium
- Chronically use medications such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.), decongestants, or illegal drugs such as cocaine
What you can do
In many cases, hypertension can be lowered through the help of lifestyle changes and/or medications, depending on what has caused the hypertension in the first place. Lifestyle changes to help lower your blood pressure can include:
- Walking more
- Eating a diet rich in potassium and low in sodium
- Eating more flavanol rich foods such as dark chocolate, apples, tomatoes, almonds and quinoa
- Avoiding caffeine, which can raise your blood pressure
If medication is needed in addition to lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe:
- Angtiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which relaxe the blood vessels
- Beta blockers which block the effects of epinephrine (adrenaline)
- Diuretics (also known as water pills), which help to rid the body of salt and water
- Vasodilators, which open, or dilate, the blood vessels