Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, puts you at risk for heart attack and stroke. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about a third of the United States has high blood pressure (about 72 million people).
What is Hypertension?
When your blood pressure is too high, it can cause severe damage to your heart, blood vessels, and other organs. Hypertension is when blood exerts too much force from inside your arteries. Think of it like a balloon being overfilled with air. It can only take so much internal force from the air inside it before it erupts.
There are two types of blood pressure: systolic and diastolic.
Systolic blood pressure is measured when your heart contracts and pumps blood throughout your body. High systolic blood pressure means your heart is working hard to keep blood flowing.
Diastolic blood pressure is a measurement between heartbeats when your heart is momentarily at rest.
These two measurements are recorded as two numbers, with systolic blood pressure always coming first. A normal blood pressure for adults is 120/80 or lower.
A blood pressure ranging from 120/80 to 139/89 is a condition called prehypertension. Prehypertension indicates to doctors and patients there may be a problem which needs to be addressed, and the patient is at risk for hypertension.
A blood pressure of 140/90 or higher is considered hypertension. A large factor of what makes hypertension dangerous is the condition’s lack of symptoms until it progresses to dangerous levels.
If left untreated, hypertension can cause:
- Heart Attack
- Heart Failure
- Kidney Failure
- Problems with Eyesight
What Are the Causes of Hypertension?
Hypertension is associated with various risk factors, but there is rarely and one underlying factor which is the direct cause of hypertension. For this reason, there are no hypertension signs and symptoms until the condition has reached dangerous levels.
Risk factors of hypertension include:
Having too much sodium in your diet can lead to your cells retaining too much fluid, therefore putting more strain on your blood vessels. Potassium can help regulate sodium levels and lower blood pressure, so a diet with too little potassium can have negative effects. Furthermore, obesity causes an increase in blood pressure because more blood is needed to circulate throughout your body. A healthy diet can be a very effective way to treat and prevent hypertension.
People with a family history of hypertension are at higher risk.
Use of Tobacco
Smoking or the use of smokeless tobacco immediately increases blood pressure. Chemicals within smoking products can also damage artery walls, causing them to harden and shrink to raise blood pressure even further.
Drinking more than two drinks per day for men, and more than one drink per day for women increases blood pressure temporarily. However, continual drinking in excesses can sustain high blood pressure levels.
When our minds are under stress our brains release hormones into our bloodstream. Two of these hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol, raise your heart rate and constrict your blood vessels resulting in much higher blood pressure. After a stressful episode has passed, your blood pressure goes down to prestress levels. Reacting to stress in unhealthy ways such as using alcohol or binge eating can cause a cycle of raising blood pressure.
Being inactive is associated with having a faster heart rate. Thus your heart must work harder and force more pressure on your arteries with each heartbeat.
As you grow older, your likelihood of hypertension increases. A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) asserts higher rates of hypertension in the elderly is due to stiffening and other structural changes in arteries occurring over long periods of time.
Onset by Another Disease
An increase in blood pressure is associated with many conditions including thyroid disorders, mental illness, kidney disease, and sleep apnea.
What Options Are Available for Hypertension Treatment?
Having your blood pressure measured is part of a routine doctor’s checkup, hence why you’ve likely had a nurse or doctor squeeze your arm with an inflatable cuff every time you’ve gone in for a physical. This is the easiest way to diagnose hypertension and is one of several reasons why regular checkups with your doctor are vital for your health.
Hypertension treatment will likely begin with changes in your lifestyle, such as achieving a healthy weight, eating less sodium and exercising. Small changes in your daily routine might seem arbitrary but can go a long way to improving your blood pressure.
The next step in treating hypertension may be medication. Diuretics, for example, are a common form of hypertension treatment which works with your renal system to lower sodium and water levels in your blood.
Medication combined with healthy lifestyle choices can effectively manage hypertension.