Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels, and the magnitude of this force depends on the cardiac output and the resistance of the blood vessel
Hypertension is defined as having a blood pressure higher than 140 over 90 mm Hg.
This means the systolic reading (the pressure as the heart pumps blood around the body) is over 140 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) and/or the diastolic reading (as the heart relaxes and refills with blood) is over 90 mm Hg. However, medical experts consider high blood pressure as having a continuous relationship to cardiovascular health.1,6 They believe that, to a point, the lower the blood pressure the better (down to levels of 115-110 mm Hg systolic, and 75-70 mm Hg diastolic)
Causes of Hypertension
Having high blood pressure for a short amount of time is a normal physiological response to many situations. However, a systolic reading of 180 mmHg or higher OR a diastolic reading of 110 mmHG or higher could be a sign of a hypertensive crisis that warrants immediate medical attention.Blood pressure does vary throughout the day, lowering during sleep and rising on awakening. It also rises in response to excitement, anxiety and physical activity.Blood pressure also increases steadily with age as arteries become stiffer and narrower due to plaque build-up. Vascular and heart disease also contribute to rising blood pressure in older adults, and a high systolic reading is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease in adults over 50 years old.
Other key contributors include lifestyle factors, such as
A salt-rich diet associated with processed and fatty foods
Alcohol and tobacco use.
Certain diseases and medications (as described below) can cause high blood pressure, and there are a number of general risk factors for hypertension, including
Age – everyone is at greater risk of high blood pressure as they get older. Prevalence of hypertension is higher in people over 60 years of age
Size – being overweight or obese is a key risk factor for hypertension
Sex – males and females have different risk profiles. While lifetime risk is the same for everybody, men are more prone to hypertension at a younger age and women have a higher rate of hypertension at older ages
Lifestyle – greater intake of dietary salt, excessive alcohol, low dietary potassium, and physical inactivity all contribute to an increased risk of hypertension.
Other risk factors include a family history of the disease, and chronic, poorly managed stress.
Common reversible causes are excessive intake of alcohol and use of oral contraceptives, which can cause a slight rise in blood pressure; hormone therapy for menopause is also a culprit.7 Secondary hypertension can also result from:4,7
Diabetes (both due to kidney problems and nerve damage)
Pheochromocytoma (a cancer)
Cushing syndrome (which can be caused by use of corticosteroid drugs)
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (disorder of the adrenal glands, which secrete the hormone cortisol)
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland).
Hyperparathyroidism (which affects calcium and phosphorous levels)
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure itself is usually asymptomatic, meaning that patients do not experience any direct symptoms of the condition. This is why hypertension is often referred to as “the silent killer,” as it can quietly causes damage to the cardiovascular system.4,7
Hypertension can also lead to problems in the organs affected by high blood pressure. Long-term hypertension can cause complications through arteriosclerosis, where the formation of plaques results in narrowing of blood vessels.
The complications associated with hypertension-related arteriosclerosis can include:4,7
An enlarged or weakened heart, to a point where it may fail to pump enough blood (heart failure)
Aneurysm – an abnormal bulge in the wall of an artery (which can burst, causing severe bleeding and, in some cases, death)
Blood vessel narrowing – in the kidneys this can lead to possible kidney failure; in the heart, brain and legs, this can lead to heart attack, stroke or the need for amputation, respectively
Blood vessels in the eyes my rupture or bleed, leading to vision problems or blindness (hypertensive retinopathies – classified by worsening grades one through four).
Treatments for high blood pressure include:
Eat a low-sodium, low-fat diet
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