High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a serious condition that can be fatal as it can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure. Blood pressure is the force exerted against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. If this pressure gets too high and remains high for a long time, it can cause serious damage to the body. In a normal person blood pressure keeps fluctuating – it falls when the body is resting, and rises during strenuous activity. It also changes with age and weight. The blood pressure is measured as systolic and diastolic pressures. Systolic pressure refers to blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. Diastolic refers to blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.
High blood pressure is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’ because it rarely shows any symptoms, and in most cases by the time it is identified, most of the damage has already been done. So it is very important, even for people with normal blood pressure, to keep monitoring it periodically.
The major causes
In majority of the people there are no apparent causes of hypertension, but lifestyle and genetic factors may lead to high blood pressure. The chances increase with age because the arteries in the heart, with time, tend to harden, forcing the heart to pump harder. Also, obesity, smoking and alcohol addictions, anxiety and stress can contribute to the condition. Hypertension has been observed to be less in cultures where the consumption of salt is less, suggesting a link between the two. Use of contraceptive drugs and corticosteroids is also considered to be one of the causes of hypertension.
Complications involved in hypertension
The damage that hypertension causes to various body organs depends on how severe and for how long the hypertension has been present. The heart, kidneys and eyes can all be adversely affected by the condition. When hypertension puts pressure on the arteries in the heart, they may constrict, causing insufficient blood flow to the heart, which can result in heart failure. When it affects the blood vessels in the kidneys, it can lead to kidney failure and similarly arteries in the eyes may be damaged, causing vision abnormalities.
Whenever you visit a doctor for any other condition, he will generally measure your blood pressure, and thus any abnormality in it can be detected. But, experts recommend that after the age of 20, it should be checked every 2-3 years. When a person is detected of BP, he/she is advised to keep a portable monitor at home so that he can check his BP, any time of the day – before or after meals, in the morning or at the end of a stressful day. The person can report the results to his/her doctor, who will put the person on appropriate medications. If your blood pressure is found to be too high (the normal level is 120/80 mm Hg- the higher figure being the systolic and the lower being the diastolic pressures), the doctor may check if it has caused any damage to other organs like the heart, kidneys or the eyes.
Treatment for hypertension
There is no cure for high BP, but it can be kept in control by making appropriate lifestyle changes like giving up smoking and drinking, exercising regularly, maintaining a strict daily routine, etc. Also, you will be advised to reduce the intake of salt and to lose weight if it is on the higher side. When these lifestyle changes do not help in bringing down the blood pressure, the doctor may prescribe one of the several drugs available to check your hypertension. Or you may be prescribed a combination of these drugs. If you see any side-effects, you should report them to the doctor so that he/she can adjust the combination and dosage accordingly. Suitable medications may be needed to be taken for life.