Hypertension, also referred to as high blood pressure, is a condition that results from an increased force of blood moving through your arteries from your heart, which pushes against the walls of the arteries. The higher the pressure the harder the heart has to pump. Hypertension can lead to damaged organs, as well as several illnesses, such as renal failure (kidney failure), aneurysm, heart failure, stroke, or heart attack.
The normal level for blood pressure is below 120/80, where 120 represents the systolic measurement (peak pressure in the arteries) and 80 represents the diastolic measurement (minimum pressure in the arteries). Blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called prehypertension (to denote increased risk of hypertension). You have hypertension if your systolic BP is 140mmHg or more, or your diastolic BP is 90mmHg or more, or both (mmHg is millimetres of mercury, a measure of pressure).
There are several factors that have been highly associated with the condition. These include:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of physical activity
- High levels of salt intake
- Insufficient calcium, potassium, and magnesium consumption
- Vitamin D deficiency
- High levels of alcohol consumption
- Medicines such as birth control pills
- Genetics and a family history of hypertension
- Chronic kidney disease
- Adrenal and thyroid problems or tumors
The symptoms are not always present and can be hard to notice, so regular checkups are recommended. Extremely high blood pressure may lead to some symptoms, however, and these include:
- Severe headaches
- Fatigue or confusion
- Problems with vision
- Chest pains
- Breathing problems
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blood in the urine
Treatment & Prevention
Getting your blood pressure under control is important in reducing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.
Eating a healthy diet can help bring your blood pressure closer to normal or even within a completely healthy range. The difference can be seen usually within just a few short months, but consistency and ongoing effort are key.
High blood pressure may be treated medically, by changing lifestyle factors, or a combination of the two. Important lifestyle changes include losing weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthful diet, reducing sodium intake, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol consumption.
Medical options to treat hypertension include several classes of drugs. ACE inhibitors, ARB drugs, beta-blockers, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, alpha-blockers, and peripheral vasodilators are the primary drugs used in treatment. These medications may be used alone or in combination, and some are only used in combination. In addition, some of these drugs are preferred to others depending on the characteristics of the patient (diabetic, pregnant, etc.).
If blood pressure is successfully lowered, it is wise to have frequent checkups and to take preventive measures to avoid a relapse of hypertension. It is important to screen, diagnose, treat, and control hyper tension in its earliest stages.
The DASH Diet
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet was first created by researchers sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. In 2016, the DASH Diet was ranked best diet for 6th year in a row by US News & World Report.
The DASH diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that is designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure. It encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. In addition to lowering high blood pressure, the DASH diet also aids in weight loss, lowering cholesterol, and preventing or controlling diabetes.
The diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods — and moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts.
There is two version of the DASH diet. You can choose the version of the diet that meets your health needs:
- Standard DASH diet. You can consume up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day.
- Lower sodium DASH diet. You can consume up to 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Both versions aims to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. The standard DASH diet meets the recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to keep daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg a day of sodium as an upper limit for all adults.