Dr. Taslima Akter
In this day and age of seemingly endless stress, hypertension or high blood pressure is emerging as an increasingly common comorbid condition. An individual’s blood pressure changes each day, depending on her/his movement and activity. However, if you have hypertension, it means that your blood pressure is chronically higher than it should be.
May is High Blood Pressure Education Month, with the 17th of the month observed globally as World Hypertension Day. It is an important day, as hypertension is a condition that can lead to severe medical complications – and even death – if left untreated. Hypertension is a silent killer.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, hypertension is a disease that over one billion people worldwide live with, even though the disease is generally characterized as one that affects only older adults. What’s more, two-thirds of all cases of hypertension are seen in low- and middle-income nations. Of these, approximately half of all hypertensive people are not even aware of their condition, as it mostly tends to be asymptomatic.
So how do you know if you have hypertension, and what steps can you take to maintain healthy blood pressure levels?
First, it’s important to understand how blood pressure works. When your heart pumps blood through your arteries – which convey blood from your heart to other body parts – a pressure is created on the artery walls. This is what is referred to as blood pressure.
A blood pressure measurement has two numbers: first, the systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in one’s arteries when their heartbeats. The second is the diastolic blood pressure, which measures the arterial pressure when the heart is resting in between beats.
A maximum normal blood pressure level is lower than 140/90 mmHg. But it’s better to keep blood pressure below 130/80mm of hg. If anyone has BP More than 130/80 but less than 140/90, s/he must be very careful because s/he is in the prehypertension stage. A sudden transient rise in blood pressure is also not uncommon because of stress, anxiety, or inadequate sleep. Therefore, before confirming the diagnosis, blood pressure monitoring is very important. If any individual’s ambulatory BP monitoring shows blood pressure levels are consistently 140/90 mmHg or more, they are diagnosed with hypertension.
Most forms of hypertension usually develop gradually over time. This is called primary hypertension. A few of the most common causes of developing hypertension are the lack of exercise, failure to eat a healthy diet, and high-stress levels. Besides these, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle, and irregular sleeping patterns can also be culprits.
In secondary hypertension, high blood pressure is caused by pre-existing conditions. These include Renal disease, Adrenal disease thyroid problems. If you have obstructive sleep apnoea, congenital defects in your blood vessels, or frequently consume life-threatening illegal drugs such as amphetamines, you are highly likely to develop secondary hypertension.
Being hypertensive can lead one to develop a number of other health complications. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in stroke, ischemic heart disease, aneurysm, heart failure, narrowed/weakened kidney blood vessels, metabolic syndrome (in which the body’s metabolism is compromised), trouble with comprehension or memory, or even dementia.
Unfortunately, there are usually no warning signs or symptoms that you might have high blood pressure. The only way to find out if you are a sufferer of high blood pressure is to measure it regularly. If you have a strong positive family history of hypertension or kidney and heart disease, you must be careful of your health because of the increased risk of developing Hypertension. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure levels, the best course of action is to take preventive steps. To that effect, it’s always a good idea to do routine check-ups from nearby clinics – not just for blood pressure measurements, but for other health concerns as well.
Thankfully, many of the risk factors of hypertension are modifiable, meaning you can take action to eliminate them. If you make it a point to get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of exercise every week (which is about 30 minutes a day if you exercise 5 days a week), daily six-to-eight-hour quality sleep, avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake, manage and preventing high blood pressure becomes a lot easier.
For those particularly concerned about high blood pressure, maintaining a DASH diet can be very helpful. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it has been known to reduce blood pressure in as little as two weeks. DASH-based dietary plans typically include foods that are rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as being low in sodium. This means eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, no added salt, as well as including low-fat or fat-free products in the diet. Also, foods high in saturated fat are limited in DASH diets.
As a Consultant, Family Medicine Doctor at Praava Health, I frequently meet patients who are surprised to learn that they have high blood pressure. That’s why High Blood Pressure Education Month is so important. It creates awareness about the importance of carrying out routine health check-ups to prevent the possibility of developing hypertension. So, on this World Hypertension Day, take a stand for your blood pressure. Keep hypertension at bay for a healthy, fulfilling life.
(The author Dr. Taslima Akter is an MBBS, FCGP. CCD, BIRDEM)