What is hypertension?
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. The condition occurs when the blood pressure inside the arteries is raised to a harmful degree. Hypertension sometimes develops over months or even years. Because of this slow development, you probably won’t experience any symptoms of high blood pressure. The condition might, however, lead to a number of serious diseases, and it is therefore important to get diagnosed early. It is recommended to have your blood pressure measured regularly.
Symptoms of hypertension
Often there will be no symptoms if the blood pressure is only slightly raised. However, the blood pressure will most likely increase to a very high and harmful level over time and this will cause symptoms. These symptoms are easily confused and associated with other health problems and therefore hypertension is often overlooked as the cause.
The symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in the urine
- Chest pain
- Vision problems
What are the causes of hypertension?
When there is no apparent cause of the condition, it is referred to as essential hypertension. Often an interplay of several factors will cause hypertension. These factors include:
- A family history of hypertension. Some genes make you more susceptible to high blood pressure.
- Organ failure, e.g. kidney or heart failure
- An unhealthy lifestyle; obesity, smoking, and overconsumption of alcohol are all associated with hypertension
- Side effects from certain types of medications
Measuring blood pressure
When you measure your blood pressure using a blood pressure monitor, the reading will appear as two numbers. The higher of the two is the systolic pressure, and this represents the force in the arteries when the heart beats (contracts) and pumps blood around the body. The second number is the diastolic pressure representing the force in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.
A healthy blood pressure will be around 120/80 mmHg. When the pressure is between this healthy level and 139/90, it is called prehypertension.
When you measure your blood pressure, it is important to be in an upright position and to not cross your legs. You should sit in a chair and relax for about 5 minutes before turning on the monitor. The room you are in should be heated, and you should avoid drinking coffee and smoking for an hour before measuring the blood pressure. Exercise and large meals should also be avoided for 30 minutes before measuring. Additionally, the cuff should be adjusted so it fits your arm and the monitor must be calibrated regularly. Measure your blood pressure three consecutive times; the average represents your actual blood pressure.
How is hypertension treated?
Your doctor will choose a treatment targeting the underlying cause of the hypertension. Often, he or she will suggest lifestyle changes like losing weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoke and alcohol and improving stress management. If these initiatives fail to lower the blood pressure, certain types of medications can help. The medical treatment can consist of beta-blockers, diuretics, or ACE inhibitors. If the hypertension is a result of side effects from medication, the doctor will replace this with a corresponding preparation without this side effect.