High blood pressure is a chronic condition that makes it hard to be detected. With some lifestyle changes and regular checkups, you can easily tame this ‘silent killer’.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when your heart is working too hard to push the blood to your lungs and through your arteries to your body to supply it with oxygen and nutrients. If continued, this excessive pressure can lead to damaged and narrowed arteries, limiting the blood flow through your body, and an aneurysm (enlarging of a section of the artery wall and a bulge formation on it) which can potentially rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
As arteries are the carriers of blood to every organ of your body, a continuous pressure on their walls can cause conditions that damage your heart, kidneys, eyes, and even cause brain stroke and sexual dysfunctions.
High Blood Pressure Fact Sheet – US Statistics
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, puts you at risk for heart diseases and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the US. Here are some data compiled by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shows how high blood pressure is affecting the lives of Americans:
- About 75 million (which is 32%) of American adults have of high blood pressure.
- 33% of Americans have blood pressure numbers that are higher than normal.
- About 1 in 5 adults have high blood pressure but they are not aware of it.
- Only about 54% of those having high blood pressure or hypertension have their situation under control.
- In 2014, high blood pressure caused 410,000 deaths in the US.
What is Blood Pressure and How It Works?
Blood pressure is a measure of the force with which your blood pushes against the sides of the blood vessels as they travel through it. The two chambers in your heart, called ventricles, contract or shrink in size with each heartbeat. As they shrink, they push the blood out of it into your lungs and through your arteries to your body. As it travels through the arteries, it pushes against the sides of these blood vessels and the strength of this pushing is called your blood pressure.
As blood flows through the arteries, three main factors affect the pressure on your artery walls:
- Cardiac Output is the volume of the blood that your heart ventricles push out each minute. The more the cardiac output, the higher your blood pressure will be.
- Blood Volume is the total amount of blood in your body. If the blood volume is high, higher will be your blood pressure.
- Resistance is anything working against the flow of blood through your circulatory system. Factors that can cause resistance are the flexibility of your artery wall, diameter of your arteries, and blood viscosity or thickness.
The Systolic Pressure and the Diastolic Pressure
When your heart beats, it squeezes blood into your arteries. The force or pressure it exerts on the arterial walls during that cycle is called systolic pressure. When your heart relaxes in between the beats, the pressure on the artery walls is called diastolic pressure.
A Sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure cuff, is used to measure the blood pressure. The measurement is recorded in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
The results of the measurement could be as follows:
- Normal Blood Pressure: At normal levels, the systolic pressure remains near to 120mmHg, and the diastolic pressure around 80mmHg. Normal blood pressure is generally between 90/60 and 140/90.
- Low Blood Pressure: When your systolic pressure frequently remains below 90mmHg and the diastolic pressure remains below 60mmHg, you have lower blood pressure.
- High Blood Pressure: If your systolic pressure frequently stays above 140mmHg, and your diastolic pressure above 90mmHg, you have high blood pressure or hypertension.
Causes of High Blood Pressure or Hypertension
Causes can vary depending on the type of high blood pressure or hypertension you have.
Secondary Hypertension,which can be easily and directly associated with some separate health condition such as a kidney disease. A tumor or other such conditions can cause the adrenal glands to release large amount of hormones to raise the blood pressure. Other conditions can be the birth control pills (with high estrogen), and pregnancy.
Primary or Essential Hypertension,which develops gradually overtime because of either hereditary reasons or because of your lifestyle. In 95% of reported cases of hypertension in the US, the underlying causes couldn’t be determined. Other things related with essential hypertension are:
- Lower levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium
- Lack of physical activity
- Smoking or/and Excessive alcohol consumption
Symptoms of Hypertension
Since it’s a chronic condition, it is difficult to link hypertension with any symptom. In fact, 1 in every 3 Americans already has it but they don’t have any idea about it. The only way to know about it is to get tested.
However, there are some symptoms that can be a result of extremely high blood pressure. The symptoms are:
- Severe Headache
- Fatigue or confusion like situation
- Problems with vision
- Chest pain
- Breathing difficulties
- Irregular heart beat
- Frequent nose bleed
- Blood in urine
Diagnosis and Test
Even though high blood pressure has no easily identifiable symptoms related to it, you can easily diagnose it at your home with the help of blood pressure monitors. If you record it more than 140/90 mmHg for at least two times, then you should visit a physician to get a detailed checkup.
How to Use Blood Pressure Monitor Correctly?
- Use the most accurate ‘clinically validated’ blood pressure monitor
- Choose the right cuff size to fit in your upper arm to get the most accurate results
- Put the cuff by following the instructions that came with the monitor manual
- Be relaxed and comfortable because if you are not, it will already increase your blood pressure level
- Don’t talk or move because it can affect your reading
- Take two or three readings, each two-minute apart, and average out the numbers
- Note down the numbers somewhere for keeping a record for a week or month
When you find your blood pressure readings higher than 140/90 mmHg for at least two times, you should visit your physician for a more detailed checkup. In addition to measuring your blood pressure, your physician will also
- Ask about your medical history (to know whether you had any heart problem before)
- Assess your risk factors (such as your habit of smoking or if you have high cholesterol or diabetes, etc.), and
- Talk about your family history (to know if any of your family members have any heart related disease)
Meanwhile or after that, your physician will conduct physical exam by listening to the sound of blood flow in your artery and your heart beat, and checking your pulse rate for finding any irregularities.
If necessary, you can also be prescribed for tests, like:
- Electrocardiogram (to check the heart beat)
- Echocardiogram (to check the heart’s valve and chambers for understanding the pumping action)
- Urine test (to check if you have a rare form of high blood pressure called phaeochromocytoma), or/and
- Some blood tests (to check the level of proteins, minerals, fats, and sugars in your blood)
High blood pressure has many risk factors, including:
- Men above 45 and women above 65 years of age are more likely to develop hypertension
- African Americans develop hypertension at an earlier age than other ethnicities.
- Transfers from generation to generation in a family
- Being overweight or obese
- Being physically inactive increases heart rate thereby increasing the force on your arteries
- Using tobacco that raises blood pressure temporarily and damages the lining of artery walls permanently
- Too much salt or sodium in your diet that can cause your body to retain more fluid in your body which increases the blood pressure
- Too little potassium (that balances the amount of sodium in your cell) in your diet
- Too little Vitamin D (that affects an enzyme produced by kidneys which affect the high blood pressure) in your diet
- Drinking too much alcohol (more than two a day for men, and more than one a day for women)
- Stress increases your blood pressure temporarily, and if try to relax by drinking alcohol or smoking, it only increases the pressure level
- Certain Chronic condition, like kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea
Treatment & Therapy
Treatment of high blood pressure includes: 1) lifestyle changes, and 2) medication.
- Lifestyle Changes: The best way to prevent and treat high blood pressure is to make some lifestyle changes that includes
- Healthy Diet
- Limiting Salt Intake and Processed Food Intake
- Avoiding Excessive Alcohol
- Regular Exercise
- Losing Weight
- Quit Smoking
- Regular Checking at Home
Medication: The ‘anti-hypertensive’ medicines don’t actually cure hypertension, but they can help bring it back to normal range. The medicine you should take will largely depend on four things:
- How high your blood pressure goes
- What’s the reason behind it
- The way your body responds to the drugs
- Other health problems that you may have
Various medicines and drugs available are Diuretics (water pills), Beta Blockers, Alpha Blockers, ACE Inhibitors, ARBs, Direct Renin Inhibitors, Calcium Channel Blockers, and Central Agonists.
It may take some time working with your physician to find the drugs and doses that work best for you.
Even though high blood pressure is incurable, you can always keep it under normal levels by knowing everything about it and making some lifestyle changes accordingly.
Related Post: 5 Best Tips to Prevent a Heart Attack
Newport Family Medicine, located in Newport Beach, CA, offers full-service family practice from pregnancy through childhood and adulthood to maturity. We provide comprehensive health care for people of all age groups.