Health

High blood pressure 101: Everything you need to know.

A person’s blood pressure refers to the force that blood applies on the walls of their arteries, as it flows through them. 

Ideally, one’s systolic blood pressure should be below 120 and their diastolic blood pressure below 80. 

According to the  American Heart Association high blood pressure occurs when the systolic, or upper number is between 130 and 140 or the dystolic, or lower number is between 80 and 90.

If it stays high for too long, it can cause serious damage to your blood vessels, and can lead to various complications, some of which can be life threatening. They include: 

  • heart failure 
  • stroke
  • vision loss
  • kidney disease

There are some ways of managing high blood pressure or hypertension. It doesn’t always cause symptoms often, but there are some regular screening you can go through, to find out if there are some preventive measures necessary. 

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) states that high blood pressure affects around 45% of adults in the U.S. 

In this article, we’ll visit the causes of high blood pressure, possible symptoms, and how to treat it. 

What Is High Blood Pressure?

The heart pumps blood all around the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients through a system of pipes, called blood vessels. As the blood flows through our bodies, it creates a force against the wall of the blood vessels called the blood pressure. This force rises and falls with every heartbeat. It is highest during systole, when the heart beats, and is lowest during diastole, when the heart relaxes in-between beats.

It goes up and down throughout the day, depending on how hard the heart is pumping, the overall blood volume, and the resistance in the blood vessels. For instance, in active or stressful events, your heart will beat faster and the blood vessels narrow, temporarily raising blood pressure. 

Causes 

Healthy blood vessels do have a bit of elasticity, similar to a rubber band, that allows them to cope with the changes to blood pressure. However, some different risk factors can affect its elasticity capacity, and increase resistance in the vessels, which can cause High BP. 

Some common risk factors include: 

  • poor diet
  • increase in age
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • having a very high weight
  • physical inactivity 
  • your ethnic background 
  • family history 
  • type 2 diabetes 
  • kidney disease 
  • obstructive sleep apnea 
  • lupus
  • scleroderma 

Sometimes, there is no apparent cause. So therefore in this case, a doctor will diagnose primary hypertension.

It can also be related to, or directly caused by other health conditions, or certain medications. 

Symptoms

High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because it hardly shows any symptoms. However, once it reaches about 180/120 mm Hg, a person may experience some of the following things:

  • Blurred vision 
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nosebleeds 
  • Dizziness Or lightheadedness 
  • Fatigue

These symptoms may not always be directly linked to high blood pressure, but could indicate other health problems. However, if you experience any of these symptoms you should seek immediate medical attention. 

The best way to conduct a diagnosis is through regular blood pressure measurements during routine check-ups. 

What do the numbers mean on blood pressure readings?

The systolic number is the blood pressure of the body when the heart is pumping and the diastolic is a lower blood pressure reading when the heart is relaxing. So the systolic is the top number when written out and the diastolic is the bottom number. Both number are important to monitor and to keep in good control. 

What are the effects of hypertension on the heart and the rest of the body?

High blood pressure on the arteries themselves will thicken the walls of those arteries and make it harder for blood to get to small vessels of the body, down to your legs, your toes, head and brain. A good blood flow is necessary so that there is enough distribution to different parts of them body.  It can also weaken the walls of your arterial vessels and cause aneurysms, and as time goes by if those aneurysms burst, they can cause serious damage to the organs in the brain, chest and abdomen. 

What diseases can hypertension lead to?

Hypertension is very dangerous and can cause  some of the following problems:

  • heart disease
  • heart failure
  • stroke 
  • loss of sight
  • kidney disease 
  • coronary artery disease 
  • aneurysmal disease 

Symptoms in women

Due to hormonal factors, the risk of High BP may be different in males and females.

Some factors that can increase the chances of it occurring include:

  • menopause 
  • pregnancy 
  • using birth control pills

High blood pressure during pregnancy can indicate preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition that can affect the mother and fetus.

Symptoms include:

  • vision changes
  • headaches 
  • abdominal pain 
  • swelling due to edema 

Everyone should go for screening and attend all health checks, especially during pregnancy. This is very important and should not be ignored. 

Symptoms in babies 

Infants can sometimes have high blood pressure due to some hidden health conditions such as kidney or heart disease. However, some potential signs that might indicate high blood pressure in newborns include:

Irritability: Unusual fussiness or excessive crying.

Seizures: This is rare, but high blood pressure can lead to seizures in babies.

Breathing difficulties: Difficulty in breathing or rapid breathing.

Weight problems: Slow or inadequate weight gain.

Bulging fontanelle: The soft spot on a baby’s head might appear swollen or bulging.

Other symptoms will depend on the condition causing the high blood pressure.

Effective strategies for lowering high blood pressure 

There are ways you can lower your blood pressure, and treatments mostly depend on several factors like how high the blood pressure is, and the risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke.  Here are 5 ways to bring your blood pressure down.

Medications

A physician  may prescribe medications to control your blood pressure. Some of these medications  include:

  •  diuretics
  • ACE inhibitors
  • angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • calcium channel blockers
  • beta-blockers

Sometimes the combination of these drugs may be advised by your doctor. The choice of medication will depend on some health factors.

Exercise 

Your whole body benefits from regular exercise. Moving your body and increasing your physical activity can help bring your blood pressure down to a safe level. 

Exercising 5 times a week for 30 to 60 mins a session can help lower that top number(systolic number) of your blood pressure by about 3-6 millimeters of mecury, which is about the same amount that medications will work. You will be reaping the same benefit from exercising in a lot cases as you would from your first medication.

Healthy diet

Focus on a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, vegetables and omega oils, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. Try to also reduce your salt intake processed foods. Experts recommend reducing salt consumption and increasing potassium intake can help manage or prevent high blood pressure. Not eating more than 5-6 grams per day could help improve cardiovascular health and reduce systolic blood pressure by 5.6 mm Hg in  hypertensive people. 

Weight management

Losing excess weight, even a modest amount, can significantly reduce your blood pressure. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise is a much quicker and safer way to lose weight. 

Quit smoking

If you’re smoking you need to quit. A cigarette in the morning can stimulate something in your body called the sympathetic nervous system, and this makes your body a little into overdrive, so your heart rate goes up and your blood pressure up. It can raise your blood pressure by up to 20 millimeters of mecury, and this can last for up to 20 minutes. So if your blood pressure is 130 and then you have that cigarette, it’ll go all the way up to 150. If that’s the only cigarette you smoke in a day your blood pressure will come down and you’ll be okay the rest of the day. However we all know that no smoker smokes just one stick in the morning, so if you keep smoking throughout the day everytime your blood pressure will go back up and you will have a continuous rise in your blood pressure throughout the day. Smoking also causes heart disease risk, stroke risk, lung cancer risk, and copd risk. So there are lots of health reasons to stop smoking. 

Limit alcohol

Moderate alcohol consumption is recommended. Drinking too much alcoholic drinks  can raise your blood pressure. Make sure you drink responsibly as advised.

Less caffeine

Some people might be sensitive to caffeine, causing an increase in blood pressure. Try to be moderate when it comes to your caffeine intake. 

Regular monitoring and follow-ups

Monitoring your blood pressure regularly and attending follow-up appointments with your doctor is crucial to assess the effectiveness of the treatment and make adjustments if necessary. 

Reduce stress

Stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or hobbies can help alleviate stress, which in turn may positively impact your  blood pressure.

Hypertension vs high blood pressure 

While they’re very similar and related, high blood pressure is the measurement of elevated blood pressure in the body. While hypertension is the state of chronically elevated blood pressure and this condition needs to be monitored and treated as it can cause serious issues in the body

Symptoms in adolescents and people in their early 20s

Adolescents can develop high blood pressure due to being extremely high in weight, or an underlying medical condition.  

Some possible medical factors are:

  • kidney disease 
  • type 2 diabetes 
  • vascular disease 
  • endocrine disease 
  • a neurological condition 

The symptoms, if they occur, will technically be the same for other groups.

A 2012 study notes that while death rates from cardiovascular disease tend to be more associated with older adults, there hasn’t been much reduction in those aged 18-39 years. The author points to the lower rates of awareness, treatments, and management of high blood pressure in those between the ages of 20-39. In light of this, there needs to be more attention and identification of high blood pressure in this age group, so that it can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems much later in life.

Symptoms in children 

This condition can affect children. Having a very high body weight and diabetes can increase the risk, but other underlying causes are: 

  • a tumor 
  • kidney problems
  • heart problems 
  • sleep apnea 
  • thyroid problems 
  • a rheumatologic disorder 
  • the use of certain drugs 
  • diet high in fat and salt

As with adults, the symptoms does not show. 

However if they do occur, some may include:

  • a headache 
  • fatigue 
  • vomiting 
  • change in mental status 

These symptoms are may indicate a case of hypertension.

Take away

High blood pressure which is also called hypertension, is one of the leading causes of medical conditions worldwide. And because it rarely has noticeable symptoms, most people with this condition are not aware of it. This has become a big problem because if not treated can lead to serious health issues. It is usually manageable or treatable if detected earlier. Some common ways of managing it includes medications and lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a healthy eating, being physically active, quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

When is medication needed for blood pressure?

If lifestyle changes don’t work to lower your blood pressure enough it will be best to talk to your clinician about medications necessary. You will mostly need two or more medications to reduce your blood pressure to the target range. If the addition of these medications don’t seem to be effective reaching your target goals, you should pay your clinician a visit, discuss possible changes in medications or do other testings to figure out why your blood pressure might still be elevated.

If my blood pressure goes down, can I stop taking my medications?

A complete lifestyle change such as engaging in fitness programs, eliminating alcohol and  eating clean, can cause you to stop taking pills overtime, as these activities can help control blood pressure.

However, it is always important to speak with your doctor first if you’re interested in reducing your medications or completely stop them. Abruptly stopping some medications can cause a rise and take it dangerous levels. This is why it is better to reduce them as time goes by.

Who needs to be concerned about high blood pressure?

Basically everyone should look out for it. But there is more attention on older people, those with high body weight and inactive people. But the number one risk factor for hypertension is your family history of hypertension or high blood pressure.

If your immediate family members have dealt with high it, make sure you inform your doctor about it. This will help you be on early and more rigorous monitoring program to monitor your blood pressure and work on preventive measures for hypertension. 

Is menopause a key factor in high blood pressure?

Menopause itself is not a direct risk factor for high blood pressure. However, hormonal changes during menopause can potentially contribute to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure in some women.

There is a decrease in estrogen levels that occurs during menopause, and this might lead to changes in the blood vessels, making them stiffer and less flexible. This change can contribute to higher blood pressure levels. Additionally, weight gain during menopause can also increase the risk of developing hypertension.

This is why it is  essential for women going through menopause to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and routine health check-ups to their monitor blood pressure levels and manage any potential risks effectively.

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