Hypertension-The Silent Killer

Blood pressure is the force blood exerts on the artery walls as it moves through the body. High blood pressure or hypertension occurs when your blood moves through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal. Often called the silent killer, it has no symptoms but can cause serious problems.

Blood pressure is recorded using two numbers:

The “top” number is the systolic blood pressure which is recorded when the heart is pumping blood out. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this number should be less than 120 to be in the normal range.

The “bottom” number is the diastolic blood pressure which is recorded when the heart is filling up with blood, getting ready to pump again. This should be less than 80 to be in the normal range.

Hypertension results from:

i) Too high blood volume.

ii) Too narrow blood vessels.

Most of the time, the etiology of a person’s high blood pressure is unknown. Once it develops, hypertension usually lasts the rest of the person’s life. It is however treatable.

Weight control and reducing sodium intake are some of the lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. Medication may be required if you are unable to control it naturally.

While some blood pressure medicines work to remove extra fluid and salt from the body, others slow down the heartbeat or relax and widen blood vessels. Many people with high blood pressure may require more than one medication to reach their goal of blood pressure.

Even after your blood pressure is lowered, you may still need to take medicine — perhaps for your lifetime — to keep your blood pressure normal.

Warning: Don’t ever stop taking medicine on your own.

Primary hypertension, also called essential hypertension, is when there is no known cause for your high blood pressure. Secondary hypertension is when a health problem or medicine is causing your high blood pressure.

Risk factors for high blood pressure:

a) A diet high in salt, fat, and/or cholesterol

b) Chronic conditions such as kidney and hormone problems, diabetes, and high cholesterol

c) Family history: You are more likely to have high blood pressure if your parents or other close relatives also have it

d) Lack of physical activity

e) Older age: The older you are, the more likely you are to have high blood pressure

f) Overweight and obesity

g) Race: Non-Hispanic black people are more likely to have high blood pressure than people of other races

h) Some birth control medicines

i) Stress

j) Tobacco use or drinking too much alcohol

Lifestyle changes:

a) Don’t smoke cigarettes or use any tobacco products.

If you are trying to quit smoking, you might need more than just motivation

b) Lose weight if you’re overweight.

c) Exercise regularly.

d) Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and is low in fat.

e) Limit your sodium, alcohol, and caffeine intake.

f) Try relaxation techniques or biofeedback.

How often should I have my blood pressure checked?

After age 18, you should have your BP checked at least once every 2 years.

What is the DASH diet?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a balanced eating plan that your family doctor might recommend to help you lower your blood pressure. Following the DASH diet can also help reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level.

Written by MedPlus