What is Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)?
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a serious condition. It is characterized by the blood circulating around the body with such force it causes damage.
The condition has many different causes, but certain factors put people at higher risk. These include the elderly or those with a family history of the condition. If you lead an unhealthy lifestyle, especially with a high sodium diet, you are more likely to develop hypertension. (1)
In the United States, up to 75 million people have hypertension. However, less than half of sufferers have it under control. (2)
Hypertension is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer.” This is because there are no obvious symptoms until it reaches an almost critical phase and many don’t even know they have it. (3)
A blood pressure reading measures the force at which blood hits the artery walls. If the intensity increases, the reading becomes higher.
It is not unusual for blood pressure to rise at times. Many will have an elevated reading after exercise, when waking up from sleep or during stressful periods in their life.
However, if the intensity remains high, it will be diagnosed as hypertension. Measures should then be taken to lower the blood pressure, if untreated it can lead to devastating consequences. These can include: heart problems, chronic kidney disease, stroke and vascular dementia. (4)
Prevention is the key; knowing the risks and taking measures to reduce them is vital. Symptoms are generally not seen in hypertension, but there are a few which we can sometimes associate with the condition. (5)
If you develop any of the following, along with a high blood pressure reading, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.
Otherwise known as blood spots in the eyes. This is identified by the appearance of blood around the white in the eye.
It occurs when the tiny, delicate blood vessels which lie underneath the protective mucus layer of the eye, rupture and leak. It is very hard not to notice the bleeding, which cannot be wiped away or bleed out. This is because it’s contained behind the layer.
The bleeding can occur with a sudden rise in pressure, for example, a very violent sneeze, or by rubbing the eye too hard. Fortunately, it will not affect vision and is typically painless. (6)
It is generally seen in people who suffer from either diabetes or uncontrolled high blood pressure. (7)
Blushing, or flushing, is when the skin on the face develops a red hue. This is very common and can be caused by different reasons.
The skin changes color when the blood vessels beneath the surface expand due to a certain trigger which raises blood pressure. Some may blush when they feel embarrassed or nervous. (8)
Other triggers include: alcohol, exercise, spicy foods and hot or cold temperatures.
A headache develops due to tension in the nerves around the muscles and blood vessels covering the skull. Headaches vary in severity, generally depending on the person’s health and cause of the condition.
Circumstances surrounding elevated to high blood pressure won’t usually bring on a headache. However, a severe headache can be an indicator of a hypertensive crisis. This is when blood pressure reaches a life threatening high level and should be treated immediately. (9)
A nosebleed (epistaxis) occurs when blood vessels in the nose become damaged, either due to an injury or simply by picking the nose.
However, a spontaneous nosebleed could also be a sign of a hypertensive crisis. (10)
Anxiety is a feeling of fear or being cautious of the surrounding situation or environment. This generally occurs before, or while, experiencing something new. It acts as a signal, telling the body to be mindful of the unfamiliar surroundings.
Experts have found connections between anxiety and hypertension. In some cases, anxiety can cause a rise in blood pressure and vice versa. (11)
Blood pressure is usually categorized into five classes, starting from a normal reading, increasing to a score which indicates a hypertensive crisis. (13)
A small device measures two kinds of pressure: systolic (from the beat) and diastolic (pressure between beats). On this device, the systolic reading will be seen above the diastolic.
Class #1 (Normal Pressure)
The blood pressure is considered to be normal, or low (hypotension), when it is less than 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury).
Class #2 (Elevated Pressure or Prehypertension)
If the systolic reading reaches between 120 and 129 mmHg, and the diastolic reading is less than 80 mmHg, blood pressure is considered to be elevated. Therefore, the person is at risk of developing hypertension. Measures should be sought to lower the level.
Class #3 (Stage 1 Hypertension)
Readings will be 130-139 mmHg systolic or 80-89 mmHg diastolic. Lifestyle changes should be implemented immediately. Doctors may prescribe medication if the person is at risk of developing complications.
Class #4 (Stage 2 Hypertension)
The blood pressure will constantly read a level of 140 mmHg (systolic) or 90 mmHg (diastolic) or higher. Now it will become necessary to take medication to reduce the reading, as well as making healthy lifestyle choices.
Class #5 (Hypertensive Crisis)
A hypertensive crisis occurs when readings suddenly skyrocket, reaching above 180 mmHg (systolic) or 120 mmHg (diastolic). Resting for a brief period, followed by a re-test is recommended. (14)
If the reading remains high and you are experiencing other symptoms, medical attention should be sought immediately.
Hypertension is usually treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.
If the condition was caused by an underlying illness, treating the primary ailment may lower blood pressure. (15)
Recommended lifestyle changes include: eating foods which are low in sodium but enriched with potassium, magnesium, calcium and protein.
The “DASH” diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) is a good example. Becoming more active, giving up smoking and managing stress will also reap benefits. (16, 17)
When high blood pressure doesn’t alleviate with healthy lifestyle choices, doctors may prescribe medication.
If hypertension is severe and the person is at risk of complications, they will also be prescribed medication promptly.
There are different medicines currently available. Some work by blocking the hormone, angiotensin II. This treatment regulates blood pressure and prevents the arteries from narrowing. Other medication works by relaxing the blood vessels and expelling sodium from the body. (18)
What is hypertension (high blood pressure)? Hypertension is when pressure from blood circulating around the arteries becomes too powerful.
What are the signs of hypertension (high blood pressure)? Many people are unaware they have hypertension. However, signs can include: anxiety, shortness of breath, facial flushing or bleeding in the eyes. If a severe headache or nosebleeds occur, this could be a sign of a hypertensive crisis.
How do you develop hypertension (high blood pressure)? Consuming a high sodium diet, being overweight or suffering from other conditions affecting the kidneys or thyroid. People with a family history of hypertension, as well as those who consume alcohol, also present a higher risk. (19)
How are you diagnosed for hypertension (high blood pressure)? Your doctor will check your blood pressure, along with your family medical history. If readings are consistently high over a period of time, diagnosis will confirm hypertension. Further tests might be carried out to check for other conditions which could cause the elevated blood pressure. These tests include: urine, blood sugar, electrocardiogram, or checking nutrient levels, e.g. calcium, potassium. (20)
What is the best treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure)? Generally, doctors will initially recommend a healthy lifestyle change. If necessary, you will be prescribed medicines to help prevent or lower blood pressure.
What are the long term complications for hypertension (high blood pressure)? Uncontrolled hypertension can damage blood vessels over time. This can lead to heart disease, stroke or even vascular dementia. High blood pressure can also damage the eyesight and lead to chronic kidney disease. (21)
Is hypertension (high blood pressure) considered a disability? Hypertension in itself is not a disability.
Is there any cure for hypertension (high blood pressure)? Blood pressure can usually be lowered with suitable treatment and/or a change of lifestyle.
Is hypertension (high blood pressure) life threatening? Yes, it can be. If someone has hypertension, their blood pressure can increase suddenly and they may enter a hypertensive crisis. This can be life threatening if not treated immediately. (22)
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a serious condition where the blood pressure is too high, meaning excessive force is being placed on the walls of the blood vessels.
It is a common condition; however, the symptoms are very difficult to pinpoint. This is why it is also known as the “silent killer.” (23)
Blood pressure which remains chronically high can lead to serious complications or even death.
Many people affected by hypertension are not aware they have it until irreversible organ damage has taken place. Therefore, it is vital to monitor your blood pressure regularly, especially if you are in a high risk category.
Fortunately, hypertension can usually be prevented and treated easily, by simply adopting a healthy lifestyle.