Hypertension, characterised by high levels of blood pressure, is a serious health condition that elevates your risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and much more. According to the observations of the World Health Organization (WHO), hypertension is one of the major culprits behind premature death all across the globe. WHO estimates also suggest that globally, 1.13 billion people live with this condition. However, fewer than 1 in 5 have of them have their blood pressure under control. Hypertension is a lifestyle disorder triggered by factors like poor eating habits, sedentary habits, and excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption.
What is hypertension?
Heart, one of the most vital organs of the body, is a muscle that pumps oxygen-rich blood to various other parts of the body with the help of large blood vessels known as arteries. Blood pressure is the measurement of the force that your blood exerts on the arterial walls while rushing through them. You are diagnosed with hypertension when this force is high. A blood pressure reading higher than 120/80 mmHg is considered to be high.
Types of hypertension
This condition can be classified into several categories on the basis of underlying cause, response to medicines, blood pressure readings, so on and so forth. Here is a low-down on the various types of blood pressure.
Primary hypertension: This form of high blood pressure has no identifiable cause.
Secondary hypertension: In this case, high blood pressure results from underlying conditions like kidney disease, diabetes and blocked arteries. Irrational use of medicines like painkillers, supplements, thyroid problems, heavy alcohol intake and sleep disorders can also trigger this condition.
Malignant hypertension: In this form of hypertension, blood pressure levels escalate rapidly to dangerous levels which needs emergency medical attention. In case of malignant hypertension, the blood pressure readings are 180/120 mmHg.
Resistant hypertension: This type of hypertension cannot be managed with medicines and lifestyle changes.
Hypertension is known to be a silent killer. Most people living with this condition do not experience any symptom till it becomes severe. The manifestations associated with severe hypertension include:
- Chest pain
What Causes Hypertension?
In most cases, the trigger behind hypertension is unidentified. However, in some cases, various factors can contribute to elevated blood pressure levels. They are
There are several known factors that increase your risk of hypertension. These include --
Age: On an average, people above 40 years of age have a higher risk of developing hypertension.
Family history: If you have a close family member with high blood pressure, you’re also likely to suffer.
Stress: Several studies have linked stress with high blood pressure. Hormones released by the body under stress affect the blood vessels and blood flow, causing a temporary rise in BP.
High salt intake: Salt is loaded with sodium that causes fluid retention in the body, a condition that escalates your blood pressure.
Smoking: Smoking causes narrowing of the arteries, thereby increasing the pressure exerted by blood flowing through them. Here are 25 things that happen inside your body when you smoke.
Heavy alcohol intake: Heavy drinking affects many crucial organs of your body including the heart. It also affects the blood pressure.
Chronic diseases: While hypertension is a risk factor for chronic diseases like heart disease and kidney disease, these ailments can also lead to hypertension.
As already mentioned, uncontrolled high blood pressure (HBP) is a silent killer. It can cause severe damage to various crucial organs of your body. Here are some of the major complications it comes with:
Diagnosis of Hypertension
Diagnosis of hypertension is pretty simple. All your doctor needs to do is to take your blood pressure reading using a manual sphygmomanometer with a stethoscope. The instrument comes with a pressure cuff that is wrapped around a person’s arm while taking the reading. However, nowadays, you get digital devices to check your blood pressure levels.
A reading above 120/80 mmHg is considered as hypertension. Here, the top number is known as systolic pressure and the one that appears below is known as diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the force with which your blood pushes against the arterial walls as your heart contracts. Diastolic pressure is the force that your blood exerts on your arteries when your cardiac muscle opens up or dilates in between the heartbeats. Systolic pressure is always supposed to be higher than diastolic pressure.
Treatment of Hypertension
The treatment of hypertension includes lifestyle modifications through a healthy diet and regular exercise and medications to tame your blood pressure levels. If an underlying health condition is the cause behind hypertension, your prescription will also need to include medicines for it alongside blood pressure drugs. Common medications for hypertension include:
They work by bringing down the speed and force of your heart beats and impairing the functions of certain hormones that can increase your blood pressure levels.
High volume of sodium and excessive fluid in the body escalates the blood pressure level. Diuretics help in eliminating both.
Chemicals known as angiotensin narrow down and tighten your arterial walls. ACE inhibitors prevents the synthesis of this chemical in the body.
Calcium channel blockers
These drugs prevent calcium from sneaking into your cardiac muscles, which, in turn, reduces the force of your heartbeat. This process brings down blood pressure levels.
Following certain food rules can be instrumental in bringing down your blood pressure levels.
- Count your calories
- Watch your portions
- Reduce your salt intake to 1 teaspoon a day
- Include a lot of potassium, magnesium and fibre in your meals. Best sources are: apples, apricots, bananas, beet greens, broccoli, carrots, green beans, dates, grapes, green peas, etc.
Prevention of Hypertension
Simple lifestyle measures can go a long way in preventing high blood pressure or at least reducing the risk of this condition. Here is what you can do:
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Avoid saturated fats
- Cut back on salt and sugar
- Manage stress with the help of yoga and meditation
- Monitor your blood pressure at regular intervals