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High blood pressure, a silent killer with no symptoms, also called hypertension, increases an individual’s risk of developing heart disease, stroke, health complications, and even death. Hypertension is a medical condition in which the blood vessels have increased pressure.
Blood pressure refers to the force the blood exerts against the walls of the blood vessels as the heart pumps blood. It varies several times a day depending on the individual’s activities. Two factors determine blood pressure.
- The rate at which the heart pumps blood determines the blood pressure of an individual.
- The width of the arteries also determines the pressure at which the blood is pumped. This implies that the narrower the arteries of an individual, the greater the blood pressure.
The blood pressure can be measured with the use of a device called the sphygmomanometer. The unit of blood pressure is millimeter mercury (mm Hg). The measurement of the blood pressure is written as two numbers – the systolic and the diastolic blood pressure.
- Systolic Blood Pressure – This is the number at the top of the sphygmomanometer. It represents the force of the pressure when the heart pumps blood to the entire body through the artery. When the heart beats or contracts, the pressure in the blood vessels is given as the systolic blood pressure.
- Diastolic Blood Pressure – This is the number seen at the bottom of the sphygmomanometer. It represents the pressure in the blood vessels in the body between beats when the heart is filling and relaxed. It is also considered the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart rests between beats.
Categories of Blood Pressure
Normal blood pressure is measured at 120/80 mm Hg and lower, while blood pressure measured at 130/80 mm hg and higher is said to be high. If an individual’s blood pressure is between 120/80 mm Hg and 130/80 mm Hg, they are said to have elevated blood pressure. Such an individual is at risk of having high blood pressure. Hypertensive care is tagged an emergency and, thus, requires immediate medical attention.
|Category||Blood Pressure (mm Hg)|
|Normal blood pressure||Below 120||Below 80|
|Elevated blood pressure||120-129||Below 80|
|Stage 1 Hypertension||130-139||80-89|
|Stage 2 Hypertension||140 and above||90 and above|
|Hypertensive crisis||Above 180||Above 120|
Causes of Hypertension
There is no known cause of hypertension, although it has been reported to result from an underlying health condition. There are two classes of hypertension.
- Primary hypertension – Also known as essential hypertension, this is the result of high blood pressure caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. Factors that can lead to primary hypertension include obesity, excess salt intake, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, insulin resistance, etc. These factors gradually lead to the development of hypertension.
- Secondary hypertension – This class of hypertension is a result of high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition. Unlike primary hypertension, secondary hypertension appears suddenly with no indication. Such conditions include sleep apnea, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, obesity, pheochromocytoma (cancer of the adrenal gland), certain medications (e.g., birth control pills), etc.
Symptoms of Hypertension
Hypertension usually shows no symptoms, and as a result, individuals who suffer from hypertension do not realize they have it. Symptoms of hypertension include:
- ringing in the ears,
- nose bleeds,
- changes in the vision,
- irregular heart rhythms,
Severe cases involve symptoms such as:
- chest pain
- chest pain
- muscle tremors
Proper and timely treatment is recommended. If not treated, hypertension can lead to continuous chest pain (angina), kidney damage, cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks, heart failure, and even death. Other complications can occur, such as stroke, which is caused when blood and oxygen are blocked from going to the brain.
Short-term high blood pressure is sometimes a response to situations such as acute stress or intense exercise. This is usually not problematic, but several readings of the individual’s blood pressure help with a proper diagnosis.
Individuals, especially those at risk of developing hypertension, are always advised to check their blood pressure regularly. An individual can use the sphygmomanometer to measure blood pressure at home or with the help of a healthcare professional. It is a rather fast and painless process that gets results immediately.
There tends to be an increase in the blood pressure of individuals during a doctor’s visit. As a result, the doctor would take the blood pressure readings on three or more occasions before making a proper diagnosis.
Sometimes, on two different days, the blood pressure of the individual is measured. If the systolic blood pressure reads ≥ 140mmHg and the diastolic blood pressure reads ≥ 90mmHg on both days, then a diagnosis is made.
Managing and Treating Hypertension
After diagnosis and it has been confirmed that the individual suffers from hypertension, the doctor will recommend some medications. The medications are first prescribed in low doses to help manage hypertension and reduce blood pressure. The medication prescribed is determined by the underlying condition that the individual is suffering from. The medications include:
- diuretics (chlorthalidone, thiazides)
- calcium-channel blockers
- angiotensin receptor blockers
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, etc.
Proper blood pressure management can help reduce an individual’s chances of developing serious health conditions such as heart failure, heart attack, stroke, etc. Individuals with elevated blood pressure can reduce their chances of developing high blood pressure by making certain lifestyle changes such as:
- eating healthy,
- reduce stress,
- losing weight,
- limit the consumption of foods rich in saturated fats,
- getting enough sleep,
- reduce alcohol drinking,
- avoid trans fats diet,
- taking supplements for lowering blood pressure, etc.
What are the Risk Factors for Hypertension?
Certain factors can increase an individual’s chances of developing hypertension. Males are more likely to develop hypertension; other risk factors include;
- Excessive intake of tobacco
- Excess consumption of alcohol
- Lack of exercise
- Excess salt intake
- Sleep apnea
- Old age
- Underlying health condition
Atherosclerosis is a condition that causes the walls of the blood vessels to become narrow due to the development of plaques on the walls. As the walls of the blood vessels become narrower, it becomes difficult for the heart to blood. This worsens hypertension. Conditions that may arise from this include stroke, heart failure, heart attack, aneurysm, amputation, hypertensive retinopathies in the eye, weakening and narrowing of the arteries, blood vessels, etc.
Food to Avoid and Food to Eat
The food we eat can also be detrimental to our health. It is essential to watch what we eat. Foods to avoid to prevent and manage hypertension or high blood pressure include:
- fatty foods ( fatty meat, butter, margarine, fried foods, processed or fast foods, whole milk dairy products)
- salty foods (tacos, burritos, pizza, salted snacks) high in salts such as fatty meat, butter, margarine, fried foods, processed or fast foods, whole milk dairy products, salted snacks,
- sugary foods (crackers, processed desserts, granola bars)
- red meat (pork, beef, lamb)
- sugary drinks
- processed and prepackaged food (chili sauce, ketchup)
People with Hypertension and high blood pressure include:
- Fruits (apples, bananas),
- vegetables (carrots, broccoli),
- nuts (walnuts, almonds),
- lean protein (fish, skinless chicken),
- legumes and seeds (lentils, kidney beans),
- low-fat dairy (fat-free milk, reduced fat cheese),
- whole grains (oatmeal, whole wheat pasta).
In summary, hypertension is a condition with usually no show of symptoms and is considered a silent killer. It can lead to a host of severe conditions such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, etc. Conditions that can predispose an individual to hypertension are obesity, genetics, underlying health conditions, and so on.
Maintaining a normal blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg and below is one way of preventing hypertension. An individual diagnosed to be hypertensive will be given prescription medications and asked to make specific lifestyle changes to help reduce hypertension.
Most times, hypertension and high blood pressure are often used reciprocally. High blood pressure refers to a number that is used to diagnose hypertension. High blood pressure is considered a symptom of hypertension. An increase in blood pressure will lead to hypertension which in turn causes a range of severe health conditions. Hypertension is a health condition that affects the cardiovascular system. It occurs when an individual experiences elevated blood pressure consistently.