High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Overview

This condition is an elevated level of pressure in the arteries. The arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body. If not managed properly, high blood pressure can contribute to a wide range of medical problems.

Understanding Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number is the systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps blood outward to the body. The second number is the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxed. A person’s blood pressure is considered normal when it is less than 120 over less than 80.

High Blood Pressure

Any amount of high blood pressure is of concern. A person is said to have prehypertension when his blood pressure reaches 120 to 139 over 80 to 89. A person who passes this measurement is said to have hypertension. Stage 1 hypertension is a pressure of 140 to 159 over 90 to 99. Stage 2 hypertension is a pressure of 160 or higher over 100 or higher. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk for a variety of medical problems.

Causes

High blood pressure may be linked to genetic predisposition. It may therefore occur in many members of the family.  The cause of hypertension is not entirely understood. This condition is closely associated with obesity, lack of physical activity, and advanced age. Rarely, it can be caused by other diseases such as narrowed kidney arteries, diseases of the kidneys and rare gland disorders.

Symptoms

Symptoms of high blood pressure may include headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, and blurred vision. High blood pressure is often not detected because it does not cause symptoms or the symptoms are not recognised.

What are the risks?

High blood pressure can put strain on the arteries, which can lead to ‘wear and tear’ problems.  If high blood pressure is not managed properly, it can result in severe complications. These may include stroke, heart attack, poor circulation or kidney failure. These complications can be life-threatening.

Treatment

Treatment options depend on the patient and on the severity of the hypertension. For the majority of patients tablets are usually required. Simple measures such as weight loss, diet low in cholesterol and sodium and regular exercise will help significantly.

In its early stages, high blood pressure is treated with dietary and lifestyle changes. Patients are advised to eat a diet low in cholesterol and sodium. They are encouraged to exercise regularly. If these are not effective, or if the high blood pressure is severe, patients may be prescribed medication to control their hypertension.