What is high blood pressure (hypertension)?
Hypertension, also known as high or raised blood pressure, is a condition in which the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure. Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in the vessels. Each time the heart beats, it pumps blood into the vessels. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels (arteries) as it is pumped by the heart. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to pump.
Hypertension is a serious medical condition and can increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases. It is a major cause of premature death worldwide, with upwards of 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women – over a billion people – having the condition. The burden of hypertension is felt disproportionately in low- and middle-income countries, where two thirds of cases are found, largely due to increased risk factors in those populations in recent decades.
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Common symptoms of Hypertension
Hypertension is called a “silent killer”. Most people with hypertension are unaware of the problem because it may have no warning signs or symptoms. For this reason, it is essential that blood pressure is measured regularly.
When symptoms do occur, they can include early morning headaches, nosebleeds, irregular heart rhythms, vision changes, and buzzing in the ears. Severe hypertension can cause fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, anxiety, chest pain, and muscle tremors.
The only way to detect hypertension is to have a health professional measure blood pressure. Having blood pressure measured is quick and painless. Individuals can also measure their own blood pressure using automated devices, however, an evaluation by a health professional is important for assessment of risk and associated conditions.
Complications of Hypertension
Among other complications, hypertension can cause serious damage to the heart. Excessive pressure can harden arteries, decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. This elevated pressure and reduced blood flow can cause:
- Chest pain, also called angina.
- Heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to the heart is blocked and heart muscle cells die from lack of oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.
- Heart failure, which occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to other vital body organs.
- Irregular heart beat which can lead to a sudden death.
Hypertension can also burst or block arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain, causing a stroke.
In addition, hypertension can cause kidney damage, leading to kidney failure.
Reducing the burden of Hypertension
Reducing hypertension prevents heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage, as well as other health problems.
- Reducing salt intake (to less than 5g daily)
- Eating more fruit and vegetables
- Being physically active on a regular basis
- Avoiding use of tobacco
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Limiting the intake of foods high in saturated fats
- Eliminating/reducing trans fats in diet
- Reducing and managing mental stress
- Regularly checking blood pressure
- Treating high blood pressure
- Managing other medical conditions