Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): All You Need to Know
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a common condition in which the force of blood against the walls of your arteries remains high for a prolonged period of time. This can lead to health problems in the long-run, which can have a negative impact on your heart and overall health. Your blood pressure is determined based on the amount of blood pumped by your heart and the amount of blood flow resistance in your arteries.
High blood pressure is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’, because hypertension may not always necessarily present with visible signs and symptoms, but the damage continues to occur in your body, increasing your risk of serious health problems. The good news is that high blood pressure can be detected easily, and can be managed with appropriate lifestyle changes and medications.
Blood pressure readings and ranges
Your blood pressure readings consist of two numbers: the top number, which is known as the systolic blood pressure measures pressure in your arteries when your heart is beating, the bottom number, which is known as the diastolic blood pressure, measures blood pressure in between heartbeats. Below are the measures for normal and high blood pressure ranges:
Normal blood pressure: Below 130/80 mmHg
Mild hypertension (stage 1): 130-139/80-89 mmHg
Moderate hypertension (stage 2): 140/90 mmHg or higher
Hypertension crisis (emergency): 180/120 mmHg or higher
Causes and risk factors of hypertension
There are two main types of hypertension and each type may be associated with specific causes and risk factors. These include:
Most people have primary/essential hypertension and this type of hypertension may develop slowly over a period of many years. In most individuals with this type of hypertension, there are no identifiable causes, although there are several risk factors associated with this type. These include:
- Age: As you age, your chances for developing high blood pressure increases. Individuals who are 64 years and above are at an increased risk.
- Family history: If you have immediate family members who have hypertension, you may be at an increased risk.
- Obesity: Being overweight increases your requirement of oxygen and nutrient supply, which in turn increases the amount of blood flowing through your arteries. As blood flow increases, the pressure in your arteries also increases.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of physical activity tends to increase your heart rate and also increases the risk of obesity. This increases the load on your heart, leading to high blood pressure.
- High alcohol consumption: Heavy alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure and damage the heart.
- Tobacco usage: Tobacco in all forms damages the lining of artery walls, making them narrow and increasing blood pressure.
- High salt (sodium) content in diet: Having too much salt in your diet can cause fluid to retain in your body, increasing blood pressure.
It is a type of hypertension which causes high blood pressure due to underlying medical conditions or certain medications. Secondary hypertension occurs more suddenly and causes higher blood pressure than primary hypertension. Various conditions and medications which may cause secondary hypertension include:
- Thyroid disease
- Kidney disease
- Tumors of the adrenal gland
- Obstructive sleep apnea (difficulty in breathing while sleeping)
- Over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, cold medications (decongestants), birth control pills and some prescription drugs.
Symptoms of hypertension
Most people do not experience any signs and symptoms even if they have high blood pressure. Only few people may present with headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and nose bleeds, but these signs are non-specific and do not occur until hypertension has reached severe stage. Thus, the best method to know if you have high blood pressure is to regularly monitor your blood pressure.
Prevention and treatment of hypertension
Certain lifestyle changes can help in both prevention and treatment of hypertension. Sometimes, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to control high blood pressure, and your doctor may recommend blood pressure lowering medication along with lifestyle changes.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet which includes heart-healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat foods etc. As the DASH diet consists of fruits and vegetables which naturally have low levels of sodium, it makes it easier to consume less salt.
Stay physically active
Ensure that you get regular physical activity in any form, and make it a part of your daily routine. Even simple activities like walking or jogging can help to lower your blood pressure.
Maintain healthy weight
Follow appropriate dietary measures and regularly exercise to cut down on your extra calories or lose the extra calories, to maintain healthy weight.
Cut down salt intake
It is recommended to have less than 1500mg of salt (sodium) per day in your diet, which is equal to about one teaspoon.
Avoid high alcohol consumption and smoking
Avoid heavy alcohol consumption and drink alcohol in moderation, not more than one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men. If you are smoker, it is recommended to quit smoking, to reduce blood pressure.
There are various types of medications for treating high blood pressure. Based on your overall health and blood pressure readings, your doctor will prescribe you with appropriate medication. Sometimes, a combination of two or more pressure drugs is prescribed for better blood pressure control.
It is important to speak to your doctor about the ideal blood pressure goals based on your specific condition, make appropriate lifestyle changes and take your medication as prescribed, to avoid future complications.
Our Cardiac Science department provides hypertension treatment and care. Read more
Dr Gobu P
MD. (Gen. Med), DM (Cardiology), FIMSA, FESC
Senior Consultant & Interventional Cardiologist -Institute of Cardiac Sciences