Hypertension: The silent killer
What is elevated blood pressure?
When your heart pumps blood into your arteries, the pressure of the blood against the artery walls is called your blood pressure.
Your blood pressure is given as two numbers: systolic over diastolic blood pressure. Your systolic blood pressure is the highest blood pressure during the course of your heart beat cycle. Your diastolic blood pressure is the lowest pressure.
Medical guidelines define hypertension as a blood pressure higher than 130 over 80 as issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) in November 2017.
When your blood pressure gets too high, it puts extra stress on your heart and blood vessels. If your blood pressure stays high all the time, you will be at a higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, and other health problems.
What are the causes of hypertension?
The exact causes of hypertension are not known, but several things (risk factors) may play a role, including:
◆ Being overweight or obese.
◆ Lack of physical activity.
◆ Too much salt in the diet.
◆ Too much alcohol consumption (more than one to two drinks per day)
◆ Older age.
◆ Kidney problems In many cases, it may not be possible to identify a cause or risk factor. The more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to eventually develop hypertension.
How can one prevent hypertension?
The best way to prevent hypertension is to choose to live a healthy life, that is make healthy lifestyle choices. Lifestyle plays an important role in treating your high blood pressure.
If you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you might avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication. The following lifestyle choices are important in the prevention and management of hypertension:
1. Lose weight and watch your waistline
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Being overweight can cause disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnea), which further raises your blood pressure. Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure.
Losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight or obese can help reduce your blood pressure. In general, you may reduce your blood pressure by about 1 millimetre of mercury (mmHg) with each kilogramme of weight you lose. Besides shedding weight, you generally should also keep an eye on your waistline. Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure.
2. Exercise regularly
Regular physical activity — such as 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure.
It is important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again. If you have elevated blood pressure, exercise can help you avoid developing hypertension. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure by up to 11mmHg if you have high blood pressure. Avoid fast foods that are rich in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Salt is a major risk factor for hypertension, hence one must minimise its intake. Avoid adding salt at the table.
4. Limit the amount of alcohol you take
Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. By drinking alcohol only in moderation — generally one drink a day for women, or two a day for men — you can potentially lower your blood pressure by about 4mmHg. But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol. Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can actually raise blood pressure by several points. It can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications
5. Stop smoking
Each cigarette you smoke increases your blood pressure for many minutes after you finish. Stopping smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal.
Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your overall health. People who quit smoking may live longer than people who never quit smoking
Treatment of hypertension
Lifestyle adjustments are the standard first-line treatment for hypertension. Avoiding stress, or developing strategies for managing unavoidable stress, can help with blood pressure control. People with blood pressure higher than 130 over 80 may use medication to treat hypertension.
A range of drug types are available to help lower blood pressure. It is important that treatment of hypertension is carefully monitored by your doctor or nurse. Serious life-threatening complications can occur if hypertension is not adequately controlled, hence the need for continuous monitoring by a healthcare worker.