What is hypertension/high blood pressure?
Hypertension is popularly known as high blood pressure (High BP). Our blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day. When hypertension or high blood pressure occurs, the blood flows through the blood vessels with greater force than normal.
Blood pressure readings are represented by two numbers. The systolic blood pressure represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts and the diastolic pressure represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes.
- Normal - below 120 systolic and below 80 diastolic mmHg
- Prehypertension - 121 to 139 systolic and 81-89 diastolic mmHg
- Hypertension Stage 1 - 140 to 159 systolic and 90 to 99 diastolic mmHg
- Hypertension Stage 2 - 160 or higher systolic and 100 or higher diastolic mmHg
- Hypertensive crisis (medical emergency) - blood pressure is above 180 systolic and 110 diastolic mmHg.
High blood pressure for a longer duration can have an adverse health effect.
How does hypertension/high blood pressure occur?
Our blood carries oxygen throughout our body. With every heartbeat, the pressure is generated which pushes the blood through a network of arteries and veins. If the blood is pumped forcefully, as it happens during high blood pressure, the arteries which are made of tissues and muscles stretch to allow the blood to flow easily. The greater the force with which blood is pumped, the greater the strain on the arteries to stretch, which in the long run is damaging and can cause a heart attack.
Who is prone to hypertension/high blood pressure?
Anyone can develop hypertension or high blood pressure at any age. However, certain conditions can accelerate the risk of hypertension:
- Lifestyle: Leading a stressful and sedentary lifestyle can very often raise the risk of high blood pressure, as does eating unhealthy foods, consuming too much salt, smoking heavily, and drinking alcohol excessively.
- Age: As people age, the risk of hypertension increases since blood pressure tends to increase with age. However, it is increasingly observed that even children and teenagers are now suffering from high blood pressure. A major cause is children are now leading a less active lifestyle thanks to all the gadgets, and are becoming overweight.
- Gender: It is observed that men suffer more from hypertension than women, especially before the age of 45 years. After the age of around 45 years, women too become more prone to hypertension, i.e. during or after the menopausal period.
- Family History: You are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure if you have a family history of high blood pressure.
What are the causes of hypertension/high blood pressure?
A number of factors can contribute to hypertension or High BP such as:
- a family history of High BP, a stressful lifestyle, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, unhealthy food habits, high salt intake, smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise etc.
- medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, hormone problems, scleroderma etc.
- drugs such as steroids, contraceptive pills, anti-depressants, recreational drugs, anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen etc. The blood pressure returns to normal as soon as the medications are stopped.
What are the symptoms of hypertension/high blood pressure? How is hypertension/high blood pressure diagnosed?
Often, hypertension leaves no symptoms in its wake. Rarely do some people experience symptoms such as:
When these symptoms occur, it is because of a sudden spike in blood pressure, which is nothing short of a medical emergency.
It is, therefore, necessary to frequently monitor the blood pressure, as monitoring is the only way to diagnose hypertension.
Continuous blood pressure readings between 160/110 and 180/110 indicate Stage II hypertension.
Stage II Hypertension is a cause for concern as it can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
If you suspect that you suffer from symptoms of high blood pressure, consult your family physician without delay.
A general physician can treat you for high blood pressure. If the hypertension is very high you might need to consult a cardiologist, based on the advice of the general physician.
What are the complications of hypertension/high blood pressure?
Untreated hypertension overtime may lead to major health issues such as:
- Kidney damage: Kidney damage is one of the most common risks faced by patients with hypertension, and vice versa, i.e., patients suffering from kidney diseases too are at a high risk of developing hypertension.
Kidney damage due to high blood pressure occurs when high blood pressure causes the blood vessels throughout the body, including in the kidneys, to stretch and strain. Due to the frequent straining, the blood vessels around the kidneys either weaken or harden. This hampers the blood flow to the kidneys and ultimately the normal functioning of the kidneys.
- Stroke: A stroke occurs when a blood vessel, supplying blood to the brain is either blocked or bursts. This blocks oxygen supply to the brain leading to the death of brain tissue. It can result in paralysis or even death. The risk of a stroke occurring is directly related to how high the blood pressure is.
- Vision loss: High blood pressure may cause blood vessels supplying blood to the eyes to rupture or harden, which can block the normal blood flow into the eyes, thus damaging the optic nerve and causing vision loss. This condition is called Ischemic optic neuropathy.
High blood pressure can also cause blockages in the arteries that carry blood to the retina.
- Blood vessel damage: Due to the great force with which blood is pumped, the blood vessels strain and stretch to allow the blood to flow easily, which can cause them to rupture.
- Aneurysm: An aneurysm can occur in the brain, aorta, legs and spleen. Sometimes arteries are blocked in places by fatty deposits, which can trigger the heart to pump blood harder than normal so that the blood pushes past the fatty deposits. The constant strain can cause the arteries to rupture, which is aneurysm.
- Erectile dysfunction: This occurs when the high blood pressure does not allow the arteries that carry blood into the penis from dilating the way they are supposed.
Hypertension During Pregnancy (Gestational hypertension / Eclampsia): Pregnancy causes hormonal shifts in women, leading to high blood pressure at times. When the high blood pressure occurs after the 20th-week mark and continues, it is known as Preeclampsia which can lead to Eclampsia. This condition is temporary.
What is the treatment of hypertension/high blood pressure?
Sometimes only lifestyle changes are not enough to treat high blood pressure. Meet your family physician for expert medical advice.
Your doctor may prescribe medications, depending on your medical condition to bring down the blood pressure to normal levels. It is incumbent that you take the medicines prescribed by your doctor, till the time he deems fit.
Following an exercise routine daily will bring about a tremendous change in your blood pressure levels. Aerobics, especially, is an ideal form of exercise to counter hypertension.
It is advisable to consult with your doctor before you begin any exercise regimen.
What are the precautions that you can take to prevent hypertension/high blood pressure?
Apart from eating healthy, there are also some precautions you need to take such as cutting down on:
- table salt
- drinking an unhealthy amount of alcohol
- leading a sedentary lifestyle
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Leading cause of death in India
One in every third adult in India suffers from this common lifestyle disorder, which is also the leading cause of death in India.
The urban, rural distribution
About 33% urban and 25% rural Indians are hypertensive.
Men more affected than women
It is generally observed that men in India suffer more from High BP, than women. ( Note: Kids too can be victims of this disorder.)
Dementia covers a wide range of symptoms including, memory loss, decline in social skills, reasoning skills and other mental abilities. Know more about dementia, its causes, symptoms, treatment and other useful facts, on Health-Wiki | Practo
Anxiety is an umbrella term for, and the main symptom of a wide range of disorders like nervousness, fear, apprehension, excessive worrying, panic disorder, and phobias. Know more about anxiety, its causes, symptoms, and treatment on Health-Wiki | Practo
Stress is the primary and immediate response of your nervous system when it thinks your body is under immediate threat or in danger. Stress is the way your body seeks to protect you by making your senses heightened and keeping you focused and alert on the