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The word “hypertension” is the combination of the prefix “hyper” (above normal) and the root word “tension” (strain or pressure). When the blood flows at abnormally high pressure through the arteries such that it exerts strain on the walls of the arteries, the condition is known as hypertension.
Some force is needed to allow the blood to flow through the arteries from the heart to the other parts of the body. However, too much pressure, over time, can lead to serious problems.
What are the major causes of hypertension?
Primary hypertension has no identifiable cause, but certain risk factors are associated with its development. Family history (genetics), obesity, older age, race (Black people are more prone to hypertension), sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, and a high-salt diet are all risk factors for primary hypertension.
Can persistently high levels of anxiety and stress lead to hypertension?
Absolutely yes. During high levels of stress and anxiety, the body releases certain hormones that can elevate blood pressure. Over time, this can lead to persistently elevated pressures and a diagnosis of hypertension.
In addition to the hormones released during high levels of anxiety and stress, hypertension can be induced by the inappropriate coping mechanisms that one uses. Such examples include the use of tobacco or alcohol.
What are the common symptoms of hypertension?
People who have hypertension usually do not experience any symptoms, especially at the onset of the condition. However, over time, significantly elevated blood pressure can cause vision changes, headaches, ringing in the ears, and dizziness.
What are the different stages of hypertension?
Hypertension is divided into stages, based on the deviation from a healthy blood pressure range. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) with two numbers:
- The systolic blood pressure: Represented by the top number. It is a measure of the forces within the arteries when the heart beats. A normal value for systolic blood pressure is ≤120 mm Hg.
- The diastolic blood pressure: Represented by the bottom number. It is a measure of the forces between heartbeats. A normal value for diastolic blood pressure is ≤80 mm Hg.
Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. Anything above this value is considered abnormal.
Elevated blood pressure is a systolic blood pressure of 120-129 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure below 80 mmHg. This is often referred to as prehypertension. Any stage after this is true hypertension.
- Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 130-139 mmHg or a diastolic pressure of 80-89 mmHg.
- Stage 2 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 140 mmHg or higher or a diastolic pressure of 90 mmHg or higher.
When the systolic pressure is higher than 180 mmHg and/or the diastolic pressure is higher than 120 mmHg, it is called a hypertensive crisis.
This is dangerously high blood pressure, and one must see a physician right away, as pressures this high may lead to a heart attack (heart damage), acute renal failure (kidney damage), or stroke (brain damage).
What are the different types of hypertension?
The different types of hypertension are primary hypertension and secondary hypertension.
Primary hypertension is the type of hypertension that has no identifiable cause and is thought to be related to genetics or environmental factors. Primary hypertension is the most common type.
Secondary hypertension, on the other hand, is the type of hypertension that results from an identifiable underlying cause.
Such causes include kidney disease, certain endocrine disorders, and some medications (anti-inflammatories such as steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, certain types of birth control pills, and stimulant medications used for weight loss).
Tobacco use, too much alcohol, and some illegal drugs, such as cocaine, may also cause secondary hypertension.
Other causes of secondary hypertension are thyroid problems, coarctation of the aorta (a congenital heart defect), and sleep apnea.
What are the side effects of having hypertension during pregnancy?
Some pregnant women may have chronic hypertension in pregnancy (a diagnosis of hypertension before pregnancy), and others may have gestational hypertension (the development of hypertension during pregnancy).
Both of these conditions can be managed with certain blood pressure-lowering medications. When blood pressure is well controlled, there may be no noticeable side effects.
However, untreated blood pressure during pregnancy increases the risk of cesarean delivery, preterm delivery, and an infant with low birth weight.
Hypertension in pregnancy can also increase the risk of developing preeclampsia, a condition characterized by protein in the urine, kidney problems, and liver problems.
Women affected by gestational hypertension may experience severe lower extremity swelling, abdominal pain, confusion, headaches, vision changes, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
If you are pregnant and have hypertension, please be sure to notify your physician about any symptoms you may experience.
Can hypertension be cured?
Hypertension can be treated through lifestyle changes and the use of certain medications that work to lower blood pressure.
What dietary changes should be made when suffering from hypertension?
In 1997 the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trial sought to answer the question of whether the DASH diet would reduce the blood pressure of patients with hypertension. (1)
This diet is high in vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and foods low in saturated fat. Researchers found that the DASH diet significantly lowered the blood pressure in these patients. (1)
A study performed in 2017 evaluated the blood pressure of hypertensive patients who both adhered to the DASH diet and limited the salt in their diets. The results showed that the combination of the DASH diet and low-salt intake reduced blood pressure even more substantially than the DASH diet alone. (2)
Hence, if one has hypertension, the usually recommended dietary changes include limiting salt intake, saturated and trans-fats, red meat, and sweets while also incorporating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, and fish.
What exercises are recommended for people suffering from hypertension?
The American Heart Association recommends that adults participate in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (i.e., brisk walking) or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise (i.e., jogging, running) for good heart health. (3)
Adding at least 2 days per week of high-intensity activity (i.e., weight/strength training) provides even more health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. (3)
How to manage hypertension?
- Stay in touch! Visit your doctor regularly for follow-ups. If you are on medication(s), your doctor may choose to make changes to your medication regimen based on how well controlled your blood pressure is.
- Eat healthy meals! Stick to a low-sodium DASH diet.
- Stay active and get moving! Remember the “150,” “75,” and “2” recommendation for exercise.