Blood exerts a certain amount of pressure on the walls of the arteries as it flows through the body. This is determined by the amount of blood pumped by your heart and the resistance to the flow exhibited by your vessels.
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a condition in which the long-term pressure within the blood vessels is elevated above the normal range. Over time, hypertension can damage your heart, blood vessels and the organs they supply, and lead to heart attack, stroke and heart disease.
Causes of Hypertension
The most common form of hypertension is primary or essential hypertension, which does not have an identifiable cause and develops over time. However, secondary hypertension is blood pressure that is higher than primary hypertension, can occur suddenly and is associated with an underlying condition.
Some of the factors that can increase your risk of developing hypertension include being of African descent, increasing age, smoking, excess alcohol intake, drug abuse, obesity, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, underlying chronic condition such as diabetes and kidney problem, certain medications and an existing family history.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypertension
Hypertension is usually not associated with any visible signs or symptoms unless the damage to the vessels and organs results in complications such as a stroke or heart attack. Severe hypertension may be accompanied by headache, nosebleed or shortness of breath.
Diagnosis of Hypertension
Screening for blood pressure should be performed at least once every 2 years after the age of 18. Blood pressure is measured using an inflatable arm cuff with a pressure gauge.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury and consists of two numbers - the systolic pressure is the measurement as your heart contracts to pump blood and the diastolic pressure is the measurement as your heart relaxes. A measurement below 120 mmHg for systolic pressure and 80 mmHg for diastolic pressure is considered normal range. A systolic range of 120-139 and a diastolic range of 80-89 represents prehypertension, a state that increases your risk of heart disease. A systolic blood pressure above 140 and diastolic pressure above 90 indicates hypertension which can cause damage to your heart, blood vessels and the organs that they supply if left untreated.
Once diagnosed with prehypertension or hypertension you may be asked to measure your blood pressure at home and maintain a log. Your doctor will also evaluate your medical history and perform a physical examination. Blood and urine tests and an electrocardiogram, which measures your heart’s electrical activity may be ordered to assess heart disease.
Treatment of Hypertension
In cases of mild hypertension, your doctor may recommend healthy lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure. You are advised to eat a healthy diet with less salt, quit smoking, lower alcohol intake, exercise regularly and maintain an ideal weight.
When blood pressure cannot be controlled by lifestyle changes, your doctor will prescribe medication appropriate for your age and medical condition. You will be advised to visit your doctor regularly to have your blood pressure and overall health assessed.