A Brief Guide to Hypertension
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a leading cause of disability, affecting almost 1 in 4 Canadians. In this condition, the force of the blood against the blood vessel wall is high, which may eventually lead to health disorders, including cardiovascular problems.
Blood pressure involves both the resistance to the blood flow by the pumping heart and the amount of blood flow to your heart. The narrower the arteries and the more the blood the heart pumps, the higher is your blood pressure.
Hypertension usually develops over the years, and you may not notice any symptoms. Surprisingly, even without symptoms, hypertension can damage your organs, such as the heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes.
Considering this, early detection is essential. To diagnose hypertension, the doctor will have to monitor blood pressure over weeks and see if the numbers fall back to normal or remain elevated.
Once confirmed, your doctor may advise healthy lifestyle changes and prescribe medication to manage high blood pressure. If left undetected, hypertension could become progressively worse and lead to health disorders such as stroke and heart attack.
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High blood pressure is a silent condition, and many people will not experience any symptoms. It may take them several years to have obvious symptoms.
If present, symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Blood in the urine
- Nose bleeds
- Visual changes
The presence of these symptoms needs medical attention. Of note, symptoms do not occur in everyone with high blood pressure, and it is not recommended to wait for symptoms as it could turn fatal.
The best way to know if you are hypertensive is to get your blood pressure checked at your doctors’ office at every appointment.
You can also talk to your physician about the risk of high blood pressure. For instance, if you have a family history of heart disorders, your doctor may advise having your pressure checked twice or thrice in a year.
Hypertension Risk Factors
While anyone can get hypertension, certain factors increase your risk of getting the condition. Some factors commonly associated with hypertension are:
- Family history: High blood pressure runs in families.
- Age and Sex: The risk of hypertension increases as you age. Till the age of 64, men are at a higher risk, while after 65 years of age, women are at a higher risk.
- Race: Hypertension is more common in people of African heritage.
- Being overweight: Being overweight requires more blood to supply nutrients and oxygen to the tissues. The greater the volume of blood circulated, the higher the pressure on the vessel wall.
- Stress: High level of stress temporarily elevates blood pressure. Long-term stress, along with an unhealthy lifestyle, may increase blood pressure.
- Taking too much alcohol: Having over two drinks a day for men and one drink for women may increase blood pressure. In the long run, heavy drinking may also damage your heart.
- Smoking: Smoking not only temporarily raises blood pressure but also damages the lining of blood vessels. Eventually, this can cause your blood vessels to narrow and increase the risk of hypertension and heart disorders. Second-hand smoke can also increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Certain disorders: Certain conditions such as diabetes, kidney disorders, and sleep apnea increase the risk of hypertension.
Types Of Hypertension
There are two main types of hypertension
Primary or Essential Hypertension
For many individuals, there is no identifiable cause for hypertension. This type of high blood pressure is known as essential hypertension and eventually develops over many years.
For others, an underlying condition causes high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure is known as secondary hypertension. It tends to occur suddenly and likely to cause higher blood pressure than essential hypertension.
As mentioned before, essential hypertension occurs without a cause. Certain disorders that can cause secondary hypertension are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Thyroid disorders
- Kidney disorders
- Congenital heart disorders
- Endocrine tumors
- Adrenal gland disorders
- Alcohol chronic use or abuse
Effects Of Hypertension
All in all, hypertension is a silent condition in most of the cases. It can damage the organs and tissues for years before the appearance of symptoms.
If left untreated, it may result in severe and fatal complications.
Some common hypertension effects are:
Damaged Blood Vessels
Healthy blood vessels are strong and flexible. So, blood can flow unobstructed and freely through these vessels.
High blood pressure makes vessels tighter, more rigid, and less elastic. Ultimately, this damage predisposes fats to accumulate on the vessel wall and obstruct blood flow. These changes result in blockages, high blood pressure, heart attack, or even stroke.
The brain depends on adequate oxygen-rich blood for its normal functioning. As hypertension restricts blood flow, it reduces blood supply to the brain. This can ultimately result in:
- Transient ischemic attacks (temporary blockages to the flow of blood to the brain)
- Stroke (significant blockage to the blood flow to the brain, causing brain cells to die)
Uncontrolled blood pressure can even alter your ability to learn, memory, speak, recall, and reasoning.
High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart. The increased pressure in blood vessels compels the heart to pump with more force and beat more frequently than a healthy heart. This eventually enlarges the heart. An enlarged heart, in turn, may increase the risk of the following disorders:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Sudden cardiac death
Overall, early detection of hypertension and managing it is essential to prevent these complications. While treating hypertension cannot erase or reverse the effects, it lowers the risk of future complications.
Here is how your doctor may treat hypertension.
Various factors help your physician to decide the best treatment option for your condition. The main factors that determine the type of treatment are the type of hypertension and underlying causes.
If you are diagnosed with essential hypertension, the doctor will advise lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure. If lifestyle changes fail to manage or stop being effective, the physician may prescribe medication.
Here the physician will focus on treating the underlying cause of hypertension. For instance, if a medication you are on is causing hypertension, your doctor will change the medication to one that does not have this effect.
Sometimes, hypertension may still persist despite treating the underlying cause. In such cases, the doctor may advise lifestyle changes and prescribe medicines to manage blood pressure.
Several medicines help in managing hypertension. Your doctor will decide the best suitable medication or combination of medications based on your condition. Some commonly used medicines are:
- Diuretics: Excess fluid and high sodium levels can elevate blood pressure. Water pills or diuretics help the kidneys to remove excess sodium from the body. While sodium moves, extra fluid in the body is also removed through the urine. All these changes ultimately lower blood pressure.
- Beta-blockers: They make your heart beat with less force, reducing the amount of blood pumped through the blood vessels with each beat. Beta-blockers also block hormones responsible for increasing blood pressure.
- Calcium channel blockers: They block calcium from entering the muscles of the heart. This ultimately results in less forceful heartbeats, lowering blood pressure. This medication also works on blood vessels by relaxing them, which further reduces the blood pressure.
- ACE inhibitors: Angiotensin is a chemical that results in the narrowing and tightening of the blood vessels and their walls. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors impede the body’s production of this chemical. This aids in the relaxation of blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs): ACE inhibitors prevent the production of angiotensin, but ARBs block this chemical from binding with receptors.
- Alpha-2 agonists: They alter nerve impulses that tighten blood vessels, which help them to relax and lower blood pressure.
Some lifestyle changes that may help to lower blood pressure are:
- Dietary changes: A heart-healthy diet, comprising vegetables, lean proteins, fruits, and whole grains, is essential for managing blood pressure.
- Maintaining normal weight: Being overweight and obese is a risk factor for hypertension. Losing weight through diet and activity aids in lowering blood pressure.
- Physical activity: Exercise helps you to lower stress, improve mood, and strengthen the cardiovascular system. Try getting at least 30 minutes of activity five times a week.
- Manage stress: Some proven stress lowering techniques include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and massage.
Besides, adequate sleep, quitting to smoke, and consuming alcohol in moderation also aid in managing blood pressure.
Hypertension is a silent disorder, and it is crucial to monitor your blood pressure to catch it at an earlier stage, especially if you are at an increased risk. Eating healthy, exercising, and medications may aid in managing this condition. Be sure to speak to your doctor if you have any doubts about diet, exercise, or medications prescribed to you.