October 30, 2016      16:09

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Heart To Heart About Your Health: Blood Pressure


elizabeth.williams's picture
Elizabeth Joseph-Williams

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Hypertension is synonymous with a busy lifestyle. Modern lifestyle factors associated with affluence, physical inactivity, salt-rich diets with processed and fatty foods, and alcohol and tobacco use are responsible for a growing burden of hypertension.

With no reliable or disease-specific symptom, hypertension is a silent killer. This means that, with no aches or pains, it can slowly steal away your health. Without symptoms, hypertension causes continuous damage to blood vessels and the heart. Blood pressure will fall and rise during the course of the day but when the blood pressure remains high over a long period of time, it is called hypertension. The word hypertension is synonymous to high blood pressure. High blood pressure occurs when the force or pressure causing blood to flow through the artery walls is increased. Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

Although high blood pressure can be secondary to other conditions, like kidney disease, and can be associated with some medications (that have the side effect of increasing the blood pressure) over time, hypertension increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Lifestyle measures are used first to treat high blood pressure, including salt restriction and other dietary changes, moderation of alcohol, and stress reduction.

The risk of high blood pressure increases with age and is more common in older people. At age 45, more men have hypertension than women. However by age 65, this is reversed and more women are affected. High blood pressure can be hereditary; therefore, having a close family member with high blood pressure also increases your risk of developing it. People with diabetes have an increased risk of hypertension than those without diabetes. About 60% of all people with diabetes also have hypertension.

Symptoms

As earlier indicated, high blood pressure usually does not present any specific symptoms and a person can be hypertensive for years without knowing it. However, cases of severe hypertension present symptoms such as:

  • Severe headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vision problems
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pounding in the chest, neck or ears

Note that these symptoms are not hypertension-specific and don’t usually occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage. Therefore, it is important to have a regular check.

The normal practice is to have your blood pressure taken as part of a routine doctor's appointment. If you are between the ages of 18 and 39 with a high risk of high blood pressure, or you are age 40 or older, you should ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading every year. It's important to use an appropriate-size arm cuff and your doctor will recommend more frequent readings if you've already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. You may also get a free blood pressure screening at a pharmacy or have a blood pressure machine purchased from the store. Public blood pressure machines, such as those found in pharmacies, may provide helpful information about your blood pressure, but the accuracy of these machines depend on several factors, such as correct cuff size and proper use of the machines.

 Causes

Even in individuals with normal blood pressure, the blood pressure can increase temporarily due to acute stress, intense exercise and other factors, but a diagnosis of hypertension requires several readings showing high blood pressure over time. It is also important to note that blood pressure increases steadily with age. However, key contributors to hypertension is the world today include:

·       Lifestyle - increased dietary salt intake associated with processed and fatty foods, excessive alcohol and tobacco use, low dietary potassium and physical inactivity contribute to an increased risk of hypertension.

·       Chronic and poorly managed stress.

·       Size - being overweight or obese is a key risk factor for hypertension

·       Sex - men are more prone to hypertension at a younger age and women have a higher rate of hypertension at older ages.

Secondary hypertension is caused by an underlying condition. Various conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Kidney problems
  • Adrenal gland tumours
  • Thyroid problems
  • Certain congenital defects in blood vessels
  • Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs
  • Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines
  • Alcohol abuse or chronic alcohol use

Management

Improving lifestyle habits can play an important role in the management of hypertension, such as a healthy diet with less salt, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise and effective management of stress. However, in most cases, prescriptions are necessary and it is important to take medications as prescribed to stay out of danger.

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SOME BLOOD PRESSURE FACTS

  • A normal reading is 120/80.
  • The top number is called systolic and the bottom is diastolic.
  • When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the artery walls and this creates pressure on them. This is called systolic blood pressure.
  • The pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats is called the diastolic blood pressure.
  • Pre-hypertension is indicated when the reading is 120-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic.
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure (hypertension) is 140-159 systolic or 90-99 diastolic.
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure (hypertension) is 160 or higher systolic or 100 or higher diastolic. At this point, help is needed.

When blood pressure is above 180 systolic or 110 diastolic, there is a hypertensive crisis - a medical emergency.


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