HypertensionBlood pressure and the body
Blood pressure is a measure of force on the arterial walls as blood moves through the body. This force is created in two ways. As the heart contracts it pushes blood away from the heart, creating the force measured as systolic pressure. As the heart relaxes it pulls blood in creating the force measured as diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is measured as a value of systolic/diastolic, with normal blood pressure for adults being 120/80.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension, also called high blood pressure, is elevated blood pressure beyond the normal, safe range for adults. Hypertension is measured as having a blood pressure of 140/90 or greater.
What causes hypertension?
There are two classes of hypertension. Primary hypertension is very gradual, usually occurring over many years, and is caused by the narrowing of the arteries which increases blood pressure. Secondary hypertension can be caused by underlying health conditions, congenital (conditions present at birth) defects, or in response to certain prescription or illegal drug use, the onset of which can be very sudden.
Genetic predisposition to hypertension
Hypertension is considered a familial disease since it is proven to be highly inheritable. For young adults, the risk for developing hypertension increases significantly with each immediate family member that has hypertension. This is true for both primary and secondary classes of hypertension.
What are the risk factors for hypertension?
There are many factors that may increase the risk of developing hypertension. As a general rule, having two or more risk factors from the following list places an individual in the high-risk category for developing hypertension:
- Age - The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age
- Family history - High blood pressure shows high inheritability
- Being overweight - Excess body weight places excess strain on the heart to supply blood throughout the body
- Sedentary lifestyle - An inactive lifestyle can lead to elevated heart rate which adds strain on the heart
- Alcohol use - Frequent or excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of hypertension
- Tobacco use - Use of tobacco products increases the risk of developing hypertension
- High sodium diet – A high-salt diet can cause fluid retention in the body, which increases blood pressure
- Stress - Elevated levels of stress can cause an increase in blood pressure
Possible complications from hypertension
Hypertension can have many negative effects on the body. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it remains elevated, the more severe the possible health complications may be. Possible health complications due to hypertension include:
- Vision loss
- Kidney failure
- Cognitive impairment
- Metabolic syndrome (is the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems)
- Heart attack
- Aneurysm (outward bulging of an artery wall, it occurs when part of an artery wall weakens)
Signs of hypertension
The onset of hypertension may be very subtle and go unnoticed early on. It is very important to have blood pressure monitored regularly, particularly if more than one risk factor is present. Prolonged or severe hypertension can express itself physically through several symptoms including:
- Feeling of pounding in the neck or chest
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Confusion or cognitive impairment
- Impaired coordination
- Blood in urine
Treatments for hypertension
It is possible to maintain healthy blood pressure through proper diet, regular exercise, limiting alcohol consumption, and adopting healthy lifestyle practices. However, secondary and hereditary hypertension may require medications to lower blood pressure. There are many medications that treat hypertension and a physician should be able to find an effective treatment with minimal side effects.
General guidelines for maintaining healthy blood pressure
- Have blood pressure checked routinely
- Eat a healthy low-sodium diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid smoking and tobacco use
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Exercise regularly
- Be mindful of stress and find activities or practices that help reduce stress