The force your blood exerts against the walls of your blood vessels is blood pressure. The pressure is dependent on blood vessel resistance and how much the heart needs to pump. Hypertension or increased blood pressure (BP) is a severe medical condition that significantly raises your risk for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, renal problems, stroke, aneurysm, and others.
Hypertension is a leading worldwide cause of premature death. Less than 20% of hypertensive people have the disease under control. Early detection is necessary; hence regular BP readings are encouraged to help you and your doctor detect any significant changes. It usually progresses over several years with no noticeable symptoms.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) records of 2019, about 1.13 billion people worldwide suffer from high blood pressure, and the majority (2/3) live in countries with low and middle incomes.
How is Hypertension Detected?
Blood pressure is monitored and recorded as two numbers. The systolic (top) number signifies the blood vessels pressure each time your heart beats, pumping out blood. The diastolic (bottom) number represents the blood vessels pressure between beats when the heart takes a rest.
Diagnosis of hypertension is made after your BP is measured on two separate days and shows a specific reading. Suppose your blood pressure reading indicates a systolic number of ≥140 mmHg and a diastolic reading of ≥90 mmHg on both days. In that case, your blood pressure is high.
What Are The Risk Factors?
Hypertension risk factors are either modifiable or non-modifiable.
Modifiable: maintaining a sedentary lifestyle, obesity or being overweight, excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption, and unhealthy diets – high in trans fats, saturated fats, and excess salt.
Non-modifiable: genetic links in families with a history of hypertension, co-existing diseases like kidney disease or diabetes, and age (above 65 years).
Hypertension is a silent disease that can take up to decades to reach severe levels, enough to display symptoms. For many, symptoms do not present themselves until some damage has already been done, hence the importance of frequent blood pressure monitoring. Symptoms that would require you to seek medical attention immediately include:
- Shortness of breath or irregular heart rhythms
- Vision changes
- Blood in the urine
- Nose bleeds
- Buzzing in the ears
When hypertension gets severe, you may experience confusion, vomiting, fatigue, chest pain (angina), muscle tremors, anxiety, heart failure, heart attack, stroke, renal failure, or an irregular heartbeat. You can use an automated device to measure your BP regularly, but get a health professionals evaluation when you are unsure about the numbers.
Management & Treatment
You can prevent hypertension by making wise lifestyle choices such as diet changes and exercising.
- Reduce Your Intake of Salt
The WHO recommends a daily intake of less than 5 grams of salt to reduce your predisposition to hypertension and other related health issues. The average consumption, however, is between 9 and 12 grams daily in most countries globally. Reducing your intake of salt will benefit you whether or not you are hypertensive.
- Increase Fruits & Vegetables in Your Diet and Minimize Fat Intake
Total and saturated fat should be avoided if you have hypertension. Instead, focus on omega-3 rich fish, low-fat dairy products, plenty of fruits and vegetables, skinless poultry, nuts, pulses, beans, nontropical vegetable oils such as olive oil, and whole-grain foods that are high in fiber. Avoid consuming large food portions, hydrogenated oils, animal fats, and trans fats. If you are hypertensive, add oils like olive oil and fish oils when calculating your total fat intake.
- Exercise Frequently
Observe your body weight and maintain it within your recommended body mass index (BMI) by exercising frequently.
- Reduce Stress
Identify your stress triggers and avoid them as far as possible. Engage in relaxing activities to help you relax, like yoga, long walks, meditation, or swimming.
- Consume Alcohol in Moderation
Blood pressure can be increased by moderate to excessive consumption of alcohol. A basic guideline for safe alcohol consumption levels is as follows:
- 80-proof spirits – 1.5 ounces
- 100-proof spirits – 1 ounce
- Wine – 4 ounces
- Beer bottle – 12 ounces
When undergoing high blood pressure treatment, ensure you continue with the lifestyle changes mentioned above alongside taking your prescribed medication to realize an effective improvement, ultimately increasing your life span.