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Hypertension – An Overview at the “Silent Killer”

Summary

  • What is Hypertension?
  • Blood Pressure and Hypertension
  • Classification of Hypertension
  • Symptoms
  • Causes and Risk Factors of Hypertension
  • Problems associated with  Hypertension

What is Hypertension?

sphygmomanometer

Hypertension is basically a persistently high blood pressure. It’s also often referred to as a “silent killer” because one may go for years without developing symptoms only to get a fatal stroke or heart attack.

Blood Pressure and Hypertension

Blood pressure is the amount of force exerted on the walls of the arteries by blood which is pumped by the heart. High blood pressure therefore indicates that one’s blood is pumping with more force than it should.
It’s often a common routine to have one’s blood pressure when you visit your doctor. The instrument used for this purpose is called a sphygmomanometer. It measures blood pressure based on two values:

  • The higher value (systolic pressure) – this is the highest pressure against the artery walls as the heart pumps the blood. The normal systolic pressure usually falls between 110 and 130mmHg.
  • The lower value (diastolic pressure) – this the pressure against the artery walls when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. The normal diastolic pressure usually falls between 70 and 80mmHg.

The overall blood pressure is read using these two values. The systolic value comes before the diastolic one. As a general guide, the blood pressure is categorized as follows:

  • high blood pressure – 140/90mmHg or higher
  • normal/ideal blood pressure – between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
  • low blood pressure – 90/60mmHg or lower

Classification of Hypertension

Hypertension is usually classified in stages based on the risk of developing Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). The stages are as follows:

  • Normal: Below 120/80mmHg (blood pressure is normal)
  • Prehypertension: Between 120-139/80-89mmHg (at risk of having hypertension)
  • Stage 1 hypertension: Between 140-159/90-99mmHg
  • Stage 2 hypertension: Above 160/100mmHg

Prehypertension is a blood pressure higher than normal but not high enough to be considered hypertension

Symptoms

Hypertension does not usually produce any symptoms since the body’s organs can resist high blood pressure for a long time. It’s therefore very important to have regular medical examinations to make sure your blood pressure falls within an acceptable range especially if you’re getting older. If untreated for long periods, hypertension will lead to more complicated problems.

Problems associated with Hypertension

If hypertension is goes untreated for long periods, it can lead to the following complications:

  • Heart Attack
  • Heart Failure
  • Kidney Failure
  • Stroke
  • Coronary Heart diseases
  • Damage of arteries
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Micro-vascular hemorrhage in brain and eye
Complications of Hypertension
Complications of Hypertension (click to enlarge)

Causes of Hypertension

The exact causes of hypertension are not fully understood, but certain things do increase one’s risk of developing hypertension. This include:

  • Aging –  the risk of hypertension increases with age, usually at 65 years and above
  • Genetics – the risk of  hypertension is similar among family members but it’s more prevalent and severe in people with African and Caribbean descent
  • Obesity – most of the people with hypertension are either overweight or obese
  • Salt intake – high intake of salt plays a major role in hypertension
  • Low physical activity/Exercise
  • Alcohol – consuming excessive alcohol, especially in amounts greater than two drinks per day, is strongly associated with hypertension

Other risk factors include:

  • High levels of saturated fat in the diet
  • High blood cholesterol
  • People with Diabetes
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • Caffeine – too much intake of coffee and other caffeine-based drinks
  • Low intake of vegetables and fruits
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Stress

Next: Hypertension | Keeping Your Pressure In Check

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