What is it?
The heart pumps blood around the body by providing sufficient pressure. This pressure is measured by their impact against the walls of the blood vessels. So when this pressure is too high, the blood vessels can be damaged over time.
The blood pressure usually fluctuates slightly around the normal level throughout the day and night. But when it stays above a certain level, it’s called high blood pressure (or hypertension).
By definition, hypertension is said to occur when the blood pressure reading is consistently at least 140 over 90 mmHg on at least two separate occasions at least 4 hours apart. The first number measures the blood pressure when the heart beats (this is called systolic blood pressure). The second number measures the blood pressure when the heart relaxes and fills with blood (diastolic blood pressure).
The risk of having a high blood pressure is increased in the following people:
- The elderly
- Those with a close relative with high blood pressure
- Black races
- Overweight and obese people
- People who consume moderate to high quantities of alcohol
- People who live a sedentary lifestyle or don’t exercise.
What are the symptoms?
Most times people with high blood pressure don’t get any symptoms, so the condition is usually found out accidentally during routine checks. This is why hypertension is sometimes called the silent killer. All the damages to virtually every part of the body go on without being noticed until things really get out of control. It is the aftermath of these damages that are rather noticed. However, some people may report episodes of headaches before being diagnosed of hypertension, but it is not a reliable pointer.
What treatments work?
Before drugs are given for hypertension, attempts are first made at controlling it with lifestyle modifications only. But when this does not help, medications are added.
Some of the lifestyle changes are:
- Weight loss for overweight people.
- Eating a low-fat diet that includes lots of fruit and vegetables
- Reducing salt intake to less than 2 grams of salt a day.
- Taking regular exercise such as walking, jogging, or cycling for at least 30 minutes three to five times a week.
- If you drink a lot of alcohol, cutting down can reduce your blood pressure.
- Quitting smoking
There are several types of drugs that can lower blood pressure. Most times, a combination of them is needed to effectively achieve this. The doctor will determine the most appropriate drugs for each case based on his assessment.
These are the main types of drugs:
• ACE inhibitors, e.g. lisinopril
• Diuretics, e.g. frusemide, hydrochlorthiazide
• Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), e.g. losartan
• Calcium channel blockers, e.g. nifedipine
• Beta-blockers, e.g. propranolol
• Alpha-blockers, e.g. alpha-methyldopa.
These drugs work in different ways to lower the blood pressure and reduce the chances of having related problems like heart attack or stroke.
What will happen to me?
The main health problems related to high blood pressure are heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, eye problems, and kidney failure. These take many years to develop, and if you control your blood pressure properly by being regular with medications and appointments, they may never occur.