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Health 101: Hypertension – The Silent Killer & Time Bomb

Hypertension Blood Pressure Health Monitoring Sphygmomanometer

A blood pressure machine, also known as a sphygmomanometer, is a device that measures the pressure of the blood in an artery and is a must-have device if you have hypertension. The cuff squeezes the artery and stops the blood flow. Then, the air is slowly released from the cuff by a valve until the blood starts flowing again. The pressure at this point is called the systolic pressure, which is the highest pressure in the artery. Image source: Mockup Graphic/Unsplash

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Definition of Hypertension

Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a chronic medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the force of blood against the walls of the arteries is consistently too high. If left untreated, hypertension can lead to serious health complications such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems. In this article, we will explore the symptoms, causes, and various treatment options for hypertension, including Ayurvedic treatments.

Blood Pressure Hypertension Health Harvard

According to the 2023 ESH guidelines, a threshold of more than 140/90 mm Hg (stage 2) is recommended for the diagnosis of hypertension. The 2023 ESH guidelines are the latest guidelines for the management of arterial hypertension, released by the European Society of Hypertension (ESH) in June 2023. Image source: Harvard Medical

General Symptoms

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a serious condition that can lead to various health complications. It is often called the “silent killer” because it usually does not produce any noticeable signs or symptoms until it becomes severe. Therefore, many people who have it may not be aware of their condition unless they regularly check their blood pressure using a device called a sphygmomanometer. Some of the possible symptoms that may occur in some individuals with hypertension are:-

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blurred vision

It is important to note that these symptoms can also be associated with other health conditions, so it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.

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Potential Causes

Hypertension can be classified into two types: primary (essential) and secondary where the primary type is the most common form and develops gradually over time. Secondary type, on the other hand, is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as kidney disease, hormonal disorders, or certain medications.

The exact cause is often unknown, but several factors can contribute to its development, including:

Genetics

Some genes can influence blood pressure by affecting how the kidneys, blood vessels, hormones, and other factors work in the body. For example, some genes can make the kidneys retain more salt and water, which can raise blood pressure. Other genes can affect how blood vessels relax and contract, which can also affect blood pressure. Some genes can even cause rare forms of hypertension that are inherited in families.

Genetics can also affect how a person responds to different treatments for hypertension. Some drugs may work better or worse for some people depending on their genetic makeup. Therefore, understanding how genetics influences blood pressure can help doctors tailor the best treatment for each individual.

Age

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. As people age, their blood vessels tend to get stiffer and narrower, which increases the resistance to blood flow and raises blood pressure. This is especially true for systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure when the heart contracts.

Unhealthy lifestyle

Some of the unhealthy habits that can increase your risk of hypertension are:

  • Smoking: Smoking can temporarily raise your blood pressure and damage your arteries. It also narrows your arteries and makes them harder and less flexible.
  • Being overweight or obese: Excess weight puts extra strain on your heart and circulatory system. It also increases your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which can clog your arteries.
  • Eating too much sodium and not enough potassium: Sodium can increase your blood pressure by making your body retain more fluid. Potassium can help balance the effects of sodium and relax your blood vessels.
  • Being physically inactive: Lack of physical activity can weaken your heart and blood vessels, making them less efficient at pumping blood. It can also contribute to obesity and diabetes, which are risk factors for hypertension.
  • Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine: Alcohol and caffeine can temporarily raise your blood pressure and interfere with some medications. They can also dehydrate you and affect your electrolyte balance.

Hypertension Vegetables Health

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension that results from challenging or demanding circumstances and is a well-known cause of many types of illness. – Image Source: Well Curve

Stress

Stress can affect blood pressure in two ways: by causing temporary spikes due to the release of stress hormones, and by leading to unhealthy behaviors that can raise blood pressure over time.

When a person faces a stressful situation, such as a threat, a conflict, or a deadline, the body activates the fight-or-flight response. This is a survival mechanism that prepares the body to either confront or escape the danger. The fight-or-flight response involves the release of adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that increase the heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.

These changes help the body to cope with the stressor, but they also put extra strain on the heart and blood vessels. Usually, blood pressure returns to normal once the stressor is gone.

However, some people experience chronic stress, which means they are constantly under pressure or worry. Chronic stress can have negative effects on health, including increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Chronic stress can also lead to unhealthy habits that can raise blood pressure, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating junk food, and being physically inactive.

These behaviours can damage the arteries, increase cholesterol levels, and cause inflammation, all of which can contribute to hypertension.

Treatment Options

Managing hypertension involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and in some cases, alternative therapies. Here are some common treatment options:

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is crucial in managing hypertension. This includes:

  • Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins
  • Reducing sodium intake
  • Engaging in regular physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol consumption
  • Managing stress through relaxation techniques

Medication

In some cases, lifestyle changes alone may not be sufficient to control hypertension. Healthcare professionals may prescribe medication to help lower blood pressure. These medications may include:

  • Diuretics
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
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Ayurvedic Treatments

Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine originating from India, offers holistic approaches to managing hypertension. Ayurvedic treatments may include:

  • Herbal remedies: Certain herbs like Ashwagandha, Brahmi, and Arjuna have been used in Ayurveda to help lower blood pressure.
  • Dietary modifications: Ayurvedic practitioners may recommend specific dietary changes, such as incorporating garlic, ginger, and turmeric into meals.
  • Yoga and meditation: Practices like yoga asanas, pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation can help reduce stress and promote overall well-being.

Note: It is important to consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before starting any Ayurvedic treatments for hypertension.

Final Say

I have had high blood pressure for a long time especially when I had to go for blood donation or when I was at the clinic to consult the doctor. It may have been a matter of apprehension at the moment. I did not feel or experience any symptoms though but it was a matter that I could not ignore especially with multiple doctors warning of the dangers.

Understanding why one has high blood pressure in the first place is the key before one starts treatment. For me, it started with managing stress which brought the blood pressure lower to pre-hypertension level but more was needed to be done. After a discussion with a doctor recently, he suggested hypertension medication as well.

Hypertension is a serious medical condition that requires careful management. By understanding the symptoms, causes, and available treatment options, individuals diagnosed with hypertension can take proactive steps to control their blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of complications.

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