Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a common heart condition that occurs when the force of blood against the arterial walls is too high that it may cause some heart conditions such heart disease, heart failure, etc. Here are some hypertension guidelines you can follow.
Blood pressure is determined by two things:
- The amount of blood that the heart pumps
- The amount of resistance to blood flow in the arteries.
When too much blood is pumped into the narrow arteries the blood pressure increases. It is possible for an individual to have hypertension for a long time without any symptoms but the damage to the heart and the blood vessels will continue and can be detected.
What are the symptoms/signs of hypertension?
Hypertension can only be detected at certain levels however, some people may experience some symptoms at an early stage some of them are:
- Dizzy spells
- Dull headaches
- Altered vision
- Nose bleeding
- Fainting episodes
Types of high blood pressure
1) Primary high blood pressure
This is also called essential hypertension and it is the type that gradually develops over many years.
2) Secondary hypertension
This type of hypertension developed by some people is often caused by an underlying condition (e.g. thyroid problems, kidney problems, chronic alcoholism, adrenal gland tumors etc). It appears suddenly and causes higher blood pressure.
Some of the people at higher risks of developing hypertension include:
- The elderly( mostly men aged 45 or above and women aged 65 & above)
- If some of your family members have suffered from the same condition
- More common in African Americans than in Caucasians
- Obesity or overweight
- People with unhealthy lifestyles such as those taking excess alcohol, excess use of tobacco and even stress
- People who are not physically active( i.e. do not exercise)
- People who take excess salt, less potassium and less vitamin D in their diet
- Individuals with some chronic illnesses such as sleep apnea, kidney diseases etc
- Pregnant women are sometimes at higher risks of developing high blood pressure
Uncontrolled high blood pressure may result in some serious complications such as:
- Stroke or heart attack- This may occur due to the thickening and hardening of the arteries because of the high blood pressure
- Heart failure – The heart muscles thicken for them to be able to pump blood against the higher pressure in the vessels. This may make it hard for them to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs and this leads to heart failure
- Thickening or narrowing of the blood vessels in the eyes which may result in loss of vision
- Aneurysm may occur if the blood vessels weaken and bulge
- Weakening and narrowing of the blood vessels in the kidneys which negatively affect its functioning
- Memory or understanding troubles/problems
Test and diagnosis
Measuring blood pressure is very simple. The doctor/specialist will place an inflatable arm cuff around your arm and then measure your blood pressure with a pressure measuring gauge. Blood pressure reading is given in mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) and it has two numbers with the upper number/reading being the systolic pressure and the lower one is the diastolic pressure). Generally, these measurements fall into
- Normal high blood pressure- if it falls below120/80 mm Hg
- Pre-hypertension- if the systolic pressure is between 120-139 mm Hg or the diastolic is from 80-89 mm Hg. This worsens with time
- Stage 1 hypertension- if the systolic pressure ranges from 140-159 mm Hg or the diastolic pressure is from 90-99 mm Hg
- Stage 2 hypertension- is a more severe hypertension with a systolic pressure of 160 mm Hg (or higher) or a diastolic pressure of 100 mm Hg
Both a systolic and a diastolic pressure reading are important but the systolic pressure reading is more significant in people of 60 years and above. This is because isolated systolic hypertension is common with elderly people.
Note that blood pressure varies throughout the day and that is why before you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, 2 to 3 blood pressure readings (each at different appointments) will be taken by your doctor. Blood pressure should also be measured in both arms and this is to determine if there is a difference. You may also be required to measure and record your blood pressure at home or at work for additional information.
If you are diagnosed with any type of high blood pressure, your doctor will conduct a physical examination and also review your medical history. He/she may also recommend routine tests such as blood tests, urine tests, an electrocardiogram (measures your hearts electric activity) and even cholesterol tests.
Management and treatment
If you want to control high blood pressure, changing your lifestyle should be your first step. Some of the recommended lifestyle changes include:
- Eating healthy foods
- Reducing the amount of salt in your diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol
- Increasing physical activity – (i.e. exercising regularly)
- Managing stress
- Taking slow, deep breaths and relaxing.
In addition to the lifestyle changes, some of the medications that may be recommended to lower blood pressure include:
- Thiazide diuretics (also called water pills) – help the body to eliminate water and sodium thus reducing blood volume.
- Calcium channel blockers- they help to relax the blood vessel muscles and some of them even slow the heart rate. They work better in older people and also in African Americans
- Beta blockers – They reduce the workload on your heart and also open the blood vessels enabling the heart to beat faster but with less force. They are more effective when combined with other blood pressure medications
- Renin inhibitor-which slows down the production of renin. (Renin is an enzyme in the kidneys that initiates a chain of chemical activities that increases blood pressure)
- Other medications include; Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, alpha-beta blockers, angiotensin II receptor blockers, vasodilators, central-acting agents among others.
Once the blood pressure is under control, you may be advised to take aspirin daily as this will help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disorders.
As mentioned above, almost everyone can have hypertension at one point in their lives. The most important thing though is to practice healthy lifestyle habits. This will minimize your risks of having high blood pressure at any stage in your life.
Here’s a video from the European Society of Cardiology discussion about their recent hypertension guidelines.