Hypertension, also known as high or raised blood pressure, is a condition in which the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure. Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body through the vessels. Each time the heart beats, it pumps blood into the vessels. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels (arteries) as it is pumped by the heart. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to work.
Hypertension is a serious medical condition that can increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney, and other diseases. It is a major cause of premature death worldwide, with upwards of 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women – over a billion people – having the condition. The burden of hypertension is felt disproportionately in low- and middle-income countries, where two-thirds of cases are found, largely due to increased risk factors in those populations in recent decades (WHO). Blood pressure is the force that a person’s blood exerts against the walls of their blood vessels. This pressure depends on the resistance of the blood vessels and how hard the heart has to work.
Many people are living their day-to-day lives and walking the streets without knowing that they have high blood pressure, and they may only find out when they have a stroke (CVA) or become seriously ill.
Most people discover that they have hypertension during a routine checkup and are able to manage their blood pressure. Unfortunately, others who don’t have the opportunity to get checked end up developing heart failure, stroke, heart attack, or an aneurysm. Hypertension is a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and aneurysm.
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association categorise blood pressure into four general categories. Ideal blood pressure is categorised as normal:
- Normal blood pressure: refers to pressure at 120/80 mm Hg or slightly lower.
- Elevated blood pressure: in this case, the top number ranges from 120 to 129 mm Hg, and the bottom number is below, not above, 80 mm Hg.
- Stage 1 hypertension: in this case, the top number ranges from 130 to 139 mm Hg, or the bottom number is between 80 and 89 mm Hg.
- Stage 2 hypertension: in this case, the top number is 140 mm Hg or higher, or the bottom number is 90 mm Hg or higher.
Many individuals are living with hypertension without realizing it because high blood pressure often has no symptoms, even when blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels. You can have high blood pressure for years without experiencing any symptoms.
Some symptoms that a few people might experience include:
- Shortness of breath
However, these symptoms are not specific and usually do not occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.
In rare and severe cases, high blood pressure can cause:
- Sleeping problems
- Vision problems
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS OF HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE:
- Older Age: The risk of high blood pressure increases as you grow older. According to the AHA, blood vessel elasticity gradually declines over time, which can lead to high blood pressure.
- Gender: Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with high blood pressure until age 64, according to the AHA.
- Hereditary (Family History): Coming from a family with a history of high blood pressure and active cases of hypertension increases your risk of having the condition.
- Obesity or Overweight: The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. When blood volume increases, it leads to increased pressure on the walls of the arteries, causing hypertension.
- Lack of Exercise and Physical Activity.
- Tobacco Consumption: Tobacco contains nicotine, which is an active stimulant. Consumption of tobacco, either by smoking or chewing, can lead to an increase in blood pressure. Also, chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls, which can cause your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. Secondhand smoking is another risk factor for hypertension.
- Diet and Alcohol Consumption: Some foods you consume can increase your risk of hypertension.
- Stress: The body releases a surge of hormones when under stress. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster and the blood vessels to narrow, increasing blood pressure for a time.
- Chronic Conditions: Having kidney disease, sleep apnea, or diabetes can affect blood pressure.
PREVENTION OF HYPERTENSION
- Regular monitoring of blood pressure: This is very important, especially in cases where hypertension is hereditary. It is advisable to get a personal digital sphygmomanometer at home to constantly monitor your blood pressure. Older people should also pay more attention to their blood pressure as aging is one of the risk factors for hypertension.
- Consumption of healthy foods: Sodium (table salt is the most common source of sodium), excessive intake can cause the body system to retain fluid, which will increase your blood pressure. Since potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells, not getting enough of it can raise blood pressure. Foods that contain potassium include dried fruits (raisins, apricots), beans, lentils, potatoes, winter squash (acorn, butternut), spinach, broccoli, beet greens, avocado, bananas, etc.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: The right proportion of carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins should be consumed. Foods that contain excess saturated fat should be consumed in moderation, e.g., cheese, dairy products, red meat, etc. Unsaturated fat should be the first choice of consumption when it comes to fatty foods, e.g., olive, peanut, and canola oils, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, fish, etc.
- Engage in Regular exercise: Exercise helps to strengthen bones, boost muscles and reduce excessive weight. A person who is overweight has an abnormal Body Mass Index (BMI). A normal BMI should be between 18.5 to 25, and this can be achieved by regular exercise and engaging in activities to reduce a sedentary lifestyle. Individuals who live a sedentary lifestyle tend to have a higher heart rate and higher blood pressure than those who are physically active. This applies to people who do not exercise frequently, as less exercise can result in increased body weight.
- Quit smoking: Since nicotine (an active ingredient in cigarettes) can cause increased blood pressure, it is advisable to quit smoking.
- Limitation of alcohol consumption: Over time, excessive alcohol use can damage the heart leading to heart failure, stroke, and irregular heart rhythm. Alcohol should be consumed moderately or not consumed if possible.
- Getting adequate rest/sleep and reducing stress: When excessively stressed, your body releases hormones that can affect your blood pressure, which is why good rest is always recommended. Always ensure you have at least 7 hours of sleep every day.