What is Hypertension?
Hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, is a prevalent condition where the force of the blood against the artery walls is persistently too high. It’s a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death worldwide.
Hypertension can develop at any age, but it is more common in older adults and its likelihood increases with age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while only 25% of men ages 35 to 44 have high blood pressure, 64% of men from age 65 to 74 do. Women suffer from the condition at similar rates but surpass men after age 75.
Symptoms of Hypertension
Hypertension is often dubbed the “silent killer” because it can be present for years without presenting any symptoms.
Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that:
- 46% of adults with the condition are unaware they have the condition.
- Less than half of adults (42%) with hypertension are diagnosed and treated.
Occasionally, if blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels, individuals might experience headaches, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, or chest pain.
However, these symptoms are not always present, and hypertension can still cause damage to the body even in the absence of symptoms. So, it’s essential to be aware of the risks of developing high blood pressure and to take steps to lower them.
Causes, Risk Factors, and Life Expectancy for Hypertension
Hypertension can be classified into two types: primary (or essential) and secondary. Primary hypertension develops gradually over time with no identifiable cause, while secondary hypertension arises from an underlying health condition like kidney disease or hormonal disorders.
Risk factors for hypertension can be many, including age, family history, being overweight or obese, sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, high-sodium diet, low-potassium diet, alcohol abuse, stress, and certain chronic conditions.
Studies have shown that compared to people without a family history of hypertension, those who have a family history were 2-4 times more likely to develop hypertension. Having one or more close family members with high blood pressure before the age of 60 means you have two times the risk of having it too.
Hypertension itself does not decrease life expectancy, but it can lead to serious health complications like heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and heart failure, which if left uncontrolled can impact your life span.
Diagnosis of Hypertension
Hypertension is diagnosed through regular blood pressure measurements, often taken using a sphygmomanometer. Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, and it is measured using two numbers: systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure.
The ideal blood pressure is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, while high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher. However, the target for over-80s is below 150/90mmHg (or 145/85mmHg if measured at home).
Treatment and Medication for Hypertension
The management of hypertension involves lifestyle modifications and, if necessary, medication.
Here are some simple steps you can take. Every small change can make a big difference to your heart and blood pressure:
- Eat Healthily and Drink Alcohol Moderately: Follow a diet that is good for your heart, like the DASH diet. This means eating plenty of fruit and vegetables; choosing whole grains (like brown rice and whole wheat bread); eating lean proteins (like chicken, fish, and beans), and reducing salt intake.
- Regular Exercise: Keep your body moving. This could mean playing a sport, dancing, walking or biking. Aim to get your heart pumping for about an hour every day.
- Weight Management: Keeping a healthy weight is important. If you’re overweight, losing even a little weight can help lower your blood pressure.
- Quit Smoking: If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking can raise your blood pressure and harm your heart.
Several classes of medications are available for hypertension, including diuretics, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), calcium channel blockers, and others.
Healthcare providers decide on the most appropriate treatment based on each patient’s overall health, age, and whether they have certain co-existing medical conditions.
Prevention of Hypertension
Hypertension prevention strategies closely mirror its treatment approaches. Adopting a healthy lifestyle early can help keep blood pressure in a normal range and prevent its onset. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, limiting sodium and alcohol, exercising regularly, and managing stress.
Scientific Studies into Hypertension
Research into hypertension is multifaceted and ongoing. Studies are investigating the genetic basis of hypertension, seeking to understand why certain populations are more susceptible than others.
Another focus of research is the development of novel hypertension drugs with fewer side effects. Research is also underway to better understand and manage treatment-resistant hypertension, a condition where blood pressure remains high despite the use of three different high blood pressure drugs.
Scientists are also exploring the links between hypertension and brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, as hypertension is a significant risk factor for vascular dementia and can negatively impact brain health.
Summing Up Hypertension
Hypertension is a pervasive, often silent condition with potentially severe consequences. It is a significant global health issue that affects more than 30% of the adult population worldwide – and more than one billion people around the world. It’s why the World Health Organization has made one of its global targets for noncommunicable diseases the reduction of the prevalence of hypertension by 33% by 2030.
While hypertension can be effectively managed, the first step lies in awareness and understanding. By taking proactive measures for prevention, committing to regular check-ups, and adhering to treatment, individuals can lead a healthy life despite their high blood pressure.
Date of prep: 18th August 2023 Job Number: CNX0003