HypertensionHypertension or raised blood pressure is a serious medical condition that significantly increases the risks of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases. It is the biggest cause of premature death globally. The World Health Organisation estimated that approximately 1.13 billion people suffer from hypertension, of which 67% are from low and middle income nations. The African Region has the highest burden of hypertension at 27%. Hypertension tends to affect more men than women, 25% and 20% respectively.
How does it happen?
For our bodies to function well, blood is pumped from the heart to the rest of the body through a system of blood vessels. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body; Veins bring back to the heart, blood lacking oxygen for re-oxygenation. Arteries and veins are connected by small blood vessels called capillaries, which facilitate the exchange of nutrients and waste products from tissues. Some level of force is required to allow blood to flow efficiently through the arteries for it to reach every part of the body. Hypertension is the medical term when blood pressure within these arteries is too high.
When blood pressure is measured two important numbers are recorded. The top number, which represents the systolic pressure, which is the pressure in blood vessels when the heart contracts or beats. The second number on the bottom represents the diastolic pressure, which is the pressure in the vessels when the heart is at rest.
Hypertension should only be diagnosed by a doctor or specialist competent in the diagnosis and management of hypertension. The blood pressure measurements should only be carried out by a suitably qualified healthcare professional. Individuals can also measure their own blood pressure using automated blood pressure devices, however, it is always important to consult a health professional for a full evaluation and assessment. Often blood pressure is recorded over 24 hours, known as ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) to confirm the diagnosis of hypertension, but if not suitable, home blood pressure monitoring (HBPM) is also appropriate. Please contact your doctor for further details.
Hypertension is clinic blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher and ABPM daytime average or HBPM average of 135/85 mmHg or higher.
What are common symptoms of hypertension?
Hypertension is often called a “silent killer”, because the majority of people with hypertension do not experience any obvious signs and symptoms, which is why it is important to have it measured regularly. Some people experience early morning headaches, nosebleeds, irregular heart beats, blurry vision and ringing ears. Severe hypertension can cause fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, anxiety, chest pains, sweating etc
What are the risk factors for hypertension?
- Family history of hypertension
- Older age (over 65 years)
- Pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease
- Are of Black African or Caribbean descent
- Unhealthy diets with high salt consumption and eating foods which are high in saturated and trans fats
- Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
- Lack of physical activity
- Drinking too much alcohol and caffeine containing drinks
- Being overweight or obese
- Deprived sleep
What are the complications of uncontrolled hypertension?
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can have serious consequences to the heart. Prolonged periods of high blood pressure can damage blood vessels, which means the heart has to work a lot harder to maintain the demands of the body. Over time this will cause further damage to the heart muscle and eventually affect the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.
Complications of hypertension include: chest pains (angina), a stroke, irregular heart beats, kidney damage , heart failure or even death.
The World Health Organisation recommends the following:
- Salt intake of less than 5g daily
- Eating at least FIVE portions of fruit and vegetables daily
- Exercise regularly.
- Stopping smoking
- Reducing or eliminating
- alcohol and caffeine
- foods high in saturated and trans fats from your diet
- Reducing and managing stress
- Checking your blood pressure regularly using a blood pressure monitor
- Treating high blood pressure
- Managing other medical conditions that increase the risk of further complications