What Is Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) And What To do about it?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common condition which affects most people who live into older age. Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against the walls of the arteries. When it's too high, it raises the heart's amount of work and can cause serious damage to the arteries. If you leave hypertension uncontrolled over time, it increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
High blood pressure is often called “the silent killer” because it may have no apparent symptoms for years. In fact, one in five people suffering from the condition don't know they have it. Internally, it quietly damages the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, and kidneys when left untreated. It's a major risk factor for strokes and heart attacks in the western world.
What Causes It?
Normal blood pressure readings are considered below 120/80, while higher results over time can indicate hypertension. Generally speaking, the underlying cause of hypertension is yet to be found. The higher number (systolic) shows the pressure when the heart beats. The lower number (diastolic) measures pressure at rest between heartbeats, when the heart refills with blood. Sometimes, kidney or adrenal gland disease can lead to hypertension.
Almost one-third of all adults in the western world have prehypertension. Their blood pressure is consistently just above the normal level -- anywhere between 120 and 139 for systolic pressure or 80 to 89 for the diastolic pressure. People in this range are considered to have a higher risk of developing heart disease than those with a lower measurement. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend lifestyle changes to help lower your blood pressure.
The Danger Zone
You are considered to have high blood pressure if readings average140/90 or higher -- for either number -- though you may still have no symptoms. At 180/110 and higher, you may be having a hypertensive crisis. Rest for a few minutes and take your blood pressure again. If it is still very high, call the emergency services. A hypertensive crisis can lead to a stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, or loss of consciousness. Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis can include a severe headache, anxiety, nosebleeds, and feeling short of breath and sweating.
Who Gets Hypertension?
Up to the age of 45, on average, more men have high blood pressure than women. It becomes more common for both sexes as they get older, and more women have hypertension by the time they reach 65. You have a greater risk if a close family member has hypertension or if you are diabetic. About 60% of people with diabesity suffer from hypertension.
Hypertension and Race
People of African ancestry are more likely to develop hypertension -- and to develop it at a younger age. Genetic research suggests that people of African ancestry seem to have a higher sensitivity to salt. Diet and excessive weight can also play a role.
Hypertension and Sodium
Sodium, a key component of salt, can raise blood pressure by causing the body to retain fluid, which leads to a greater burden on the cardiovascular system.
It is recommended to consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. You'll need to check food labels and menus carefully. Processed foods makes up the majority of our sodium intake. Canned soups and lunch meats are prime culprits.
Hypertension and Stress
Stress can make your blood pressure spike, but there's no evidence that it causes high blood pressure as an ongoing condition. However, stress may increase risk factors for heart disease, so it may have an indirect connection to hypertension. Stress may lead to other unhealthy habits, such as a poor diet, alcohol use, or smoking, which can contribute to hypertension and cardiovascular disease. There are many books available that may help you with reducing your stress. I recommend Transforming Stress.
Hypertension and Weight
Being overweight places a strain on the heart and increases your risk of hypertension. That is why diets to lower blood pressure are often also designed to control calories. They typically call for cutting fatty foods and added sugars, while increasing fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and fibre. Even losing 5 kilograms can make a difference.
High Blood Pressure and Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. Common guidelines state that if you drink alcohol, you should limit the amount to no more than two drinks a day for men, or one a day for women. They define a drink as half a pints of beer, 120cc of wine, 500cc of 80-proof spirits, or 30cc of 100-proof spirits. There are way that you can make better choices when it comes to drinking alcohol.
Hypertension and Caffeine
If caffeine can make you jumpy, can it also raise your blood pressure? It might have a temporary effect, but studies haven't shown any substantial link between caffeine consumption and the development of hypertension. You can safely drink one or two cups a day, according to most healthcare authorities.
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Risks Regarding Pregnancy
Gestational hypertension is a kind of high blood pressure that occurs in the second half of pregnancy in women who might have never experienced high blood pressure before. Without treatment, it may lead to a serious condition called preeclampsiathat endangers both the mother and baby. The condition can limit blood and oxygen flow to the baby and can affect the mother's kidneys and brain. After the baby is born, the mother’s blood pressure usually drops back to its normal level.
Some Medicine Might Cause Hypertension
Cold and flu medicines that contain decongestants are one of several classes of medication that can increase blood pressure. Others include NSAID pain relievers, steroids, diet pills, birth control pills, and some antidepressants. If you have high blood pressure, ask your healthcare professional whether any drugs and supplements you are taking may affect your blood pressure.
'White Coat' Syndrome
Some people only have a high reading in the clinic, perhaps because they're anxious. Some will only have high blood pressure readings occasionally. A recent study shows that those people may have a higher chance of developing chronic high blood pressure. To get a more accurate reading, take your blood pressure at home with a home monitor, deep a record of the readings, and share them with your doctor or do a 24 hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring. It is also a good idea to bring your home monitor to the clinic for a check of the device and your technique. Read more on White Coat Syndrome
Hypertension and Children
While hypertension is commonly a problem for older people, children too can have high blood pressure.
"Normal" blood pressure varies based on a child’s age, height, and sex, so your paediatrician will need to tell you if there is a concern. Children are at greater risk if they are overweight, have a family history of the illness and if they're of African ancestry.
You may be able to lower your blood pressure by switching to a better diet which involves eating more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, and nuts. You should eat less red meat, saturated fats, and sweets. Reducing sodium in the diet can also have a significant effect. It’s recommended to consult a nutritionist for best results.
Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure. Adults should get about 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise every week. That could include gardening, walking briskly, bicycling, or other aerobic exercise. If you are suffering from shortage of available time you might want to try High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Muscle-strengthening activities are recommended at least two days a week and should work all major muscle groups.
Treatment: Complementary Therapies
Meditation can put the body into a state of deep rest, which can lower blood pressure. HeartMath is a new technology that has broad-based applications in stress reduction. I strongly recommend it. Yoga, tai chi, and deep breathing also help. These relaxation techniques should be combined with other lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.
There are also dietary supplements that are knows to help stabilise hypertension such as Vasotensin, PeptAce and Aged Cyolic Garlic. However, be aware that some herbal therapies may conflict with other drugs you take, and some herbs actually raise blood pressure. Tell your healthcare practitioner if you take herbal or other dietary supplements.
Treatment: Conventional Medications Diuretics
Diuretics are commonly the first choice if diet and exercise changes aren't sufficient. Also called "water pills," they assist the body in shedding excess sodium and water to lower blood pressure. That means you'll urinate more frequently. Some diuretics may deplete the body's potassium, causing muscle weakness, leg cramps, and fatigue. Some can increase blood sugar levels in diabetics. Erectile dysfunction may also be a side effect.
Beta-blockers work by slowing the heart rate, which means that the heart doesn't have to work as hard. They are also used to treat other heart conditions, such as an abnormal heart rate called arrhythmia and essential tremor. They may be prescribed along with other medications. Side effects can include insomnia, dizziness, fatigue, cold hands and feet, and erectile dysfunction.
ACE inhibitors reduce the body's supply of angiotensin II -- a substance that makes blood vessels contract and narrow. The result is more relaxed, open (dilated) arteries, as well as lower blood pressure and less effort for the cardiovascular system. Side effects can include a dry cough, skin rash, or dizziness, and high levels of potassium. Women should not become pregnant while taking an ACE inhibitor.
Instead of reducing the body's supply of angiotensin II, these drugs block receptors for angiotensin. This blockade prevents the chemical's artery-tightening effects, and lowers blood pressure. ARBs can take several weeks to become fully effective. Possible side effects include dizziness, muscle cramps, insomnia, and high levels of potassium. Women should not become pregnant while taking this medication.
Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium channel blockers slow the movement of calcium into the cardiovascular system. Since calcium causes stronger heart contractions, these drugs ease the heart's contraction and relax the blood vessels. They can cause dizziness, heart palpitations, swelling of the ankles, and constipation. Take them with food or milk and avoid grapefruit juice and alcohol because of potential interactions.
Other medications that relax the blood vessels include vasodilators, alpha blockers, and central agonists. Side effects can include dizziness, a fast heart beat or heart palpitations, headaches, or diarrhoea. Your doctor may suggest them if other blood pressure medications are not working well enough or if you have other conditions.
Living With High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is often a chronic (life-long) condition. It's important to take your medications and continue to monitor your blood pressure but keep in mind that changes in lifestyle (nutrition, exercise and stress management) are very likely to help reduce your blood pressure. If you keep it under control, you can reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure.