Understanding Hypertension

Understanding Hypertension

Nearly one-third of all American adults have high blood pressure. The prevalence of high blood pressure increases with age, with 65% of men and 75% of women having high blood pressure after the age of 64.

When you have high blood pressure, your heart is working harder than normal to pump blood through your body. It is commonly called a “silent killer” because it usually has no noticeable symptoms. On rare occasion, it can manifest with headaches, dizziness, and palpitations (rapid heart beat, sometimes irregular).

Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers. The top number is called the systolic blood pressure. The bottom number is called the diastolic blood pressure. For example, 120 over 80 (written as 120/80 mmHg).

One or both of these numbers can be too high.

  • Normal blood pressure: 120/80 mmHg
  • High blood pressure: 140/90 mmHg or higher
  • Pre-hypertension between 120/80 and 140/90

Hypertension can be divided into two groups:

  1. Essential hypertension (no known cause)
  2. Secondary hypertension: may be caused by chronic kidney diseases, Cushing syndrome, Pheochromocytoma, Renal Artery Stenosis, etc.

Risk factors:

  • Age; The risk of high blood pressure increases with age.
  • Family history; High blood pressure tends to run in families.
  • Obesity; The more you weigh the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls.
  • Sedentary lifestyle; People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries. Lack of physical activity also increases the risk of being overweight.
  • Smoking; Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls. This can cause your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure. Secondhand smoke also can increase your blood pressure.
  • Too much salt in the diet; Too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
  • Low potassium in the diet; Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. If you don’t get enough potassium in your diet or retain enough potassium, you may accumulate too much sodium in your blood.
  • Alcohol; Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart. Having more than two drinks a day for men, and more than one drink a day for women may affect your blood pressure.
  • Stress; High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure. If you try to relax by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, you may only increase problems with high blood pressure.

The excessive pressure on your artery walls caused by high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels, as well as organs in the body. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the damage.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to:

  • Heart attack or stroke; High blood pressure can cause hardening and thickening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or other complications.
  • Aneurysm; Increased blood pressure can cause your blood vessels to weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can be life-threatening.
  • Heart failure; To pump blood against the higher pressure in your vessels, your heart muscle thickens. Eventually, the thickened muscle may have a hard time pumping enough blood to meet your body’s needs, which can lead to heart failure.
  • Weakened and narrowed blood vessels in your kidneys; This can prevent these organs from functioning normally.
  • Thickened, narrowed or torn blood vessels in the eyes; This can result in vision loss.
  • Metabolic syndrome; This syndrome is a cluster of disorders of your body’s metabolism, including increased waist circumference; high triglycerides; low high-density lipoprotein (HDL); or “good” cholesterol; high blood pressure; and high Insulin levels.If you have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to have other components of metabolic syndrome. The more components you have, the greater your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
  • Trouble with memory or understanding; Uncontrolled high blood pressure may also affect your ability to think, remember and learn. Trouble with memory or understanding concepts is more common in people with high blood pressure.

The goal of treatment is to reduce your blood pressure so that you have a lower risk of complications. You and your doctor should set a blood pressure goal for you.

If you have pre-hypertension, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes to bring your blood pressure down to a normal range. Medicines are rarely used for pre-hypertension.

Lifestyle changes to ease high blood pressure:

  • Eat a heart healthy diet, including potassium and fiber.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink to 1 drink a day for women, and 2 a day for men.
  • Limit the amount of sodium (salt) you eat — aim for less than 1,500 mg per day.
  • Reduce stress. Try to avoid things that cause you stress, and try meditation or yoga to de-stress.
  • Stay at a healthy body weight.

In case you are predisposed to high blood pressure or are diagnosed, take control of your health. Make the changes, visit your physician and participate actively in the treatment. Do not take a role of the victim. Be in charge of your life and health!!!
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