High blood pressure or hypertension affects around 80 million Americans. Hypertension is also known as “the silent killer” because it often goes unnoticed and may cause serious complications such as kidney diseases, heart diseases, heart failure, and stroke. As many as 16 million Americans are unaware of the condition. High blood pressure occurs due to the tightening or stiffness of very small arteries called arterioles. As a result, the heart pumps harder through the stiff or narrow arterioles, leading to elevated pressure inside the vessels. High blood pressure or hypertension is when the blood pressure readings consistently range from 140 or higher for systolic or 90 or higher for diastolic. Blood pressure readings above 180/120 mmHg are dangerously high and require immediate medical attention.
What are the different types of blood pressure?
There are two main types of high blood pressure: primary and secondary high blood pressure.
- Primary high blood pressure: Also known as essential high blood pressure, this is the most common type of high blood pressure. Primary high blood pressure does not happen as a result of some underlying medical condition. This type of blood pressure develops over time as one gets older.
- Secondary high blood pressure: It is caused by another medical condition or due to the use of certain medications. It gets better once the condition is treated or when the medication is stopped.
Who is at risk of high blood pressure?
People associated with the following risk factors are more likely to get high blood pressure:
- Family history of high blood pressure
- African-American race
- Male gender
- Women aged above 55 years
- Consumption of a fat-rich and sodium-rich diet
- Tobacco use
- Oral contraceptive use
- Heavy alcohol drinking
- Physical inactivity
- Tumors in adrenal or pituitary glands
- Production of excess growth hormone
- Problems with parathyroid gland
- Reactions to medicines for other medical problems
How does high blood pressure affect the body?
High blood pressure affects the body in the following ways:
- It hardens the arteries because the excess pressure in the arteries causes the muscles lining the walls of the artery to thicken, leading to the narrowing of the passage.
- It increases the workload of the heart causing the heart to enlarge. The bigger heart demands more oxygen-rich blood but is unable to obtain it. As a result, the person may feel weak and tired.
- It damages the kidney as the blood supply gets affected due to prolonged high blood pressure.
- It affects the retina of the eye by causing the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) to bleed.
How is high blood pressure treated?
Lifestyle changes, regular exercises, and blood pressure medications help to treat high blood pressure. Some of the suggested lifestyle changes are as follows:
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight
- Avoid alcohol or at least limit the intake
- Eat a low-sodium, low-fat diet such as the DASH diet
- Avoid stress
- Eat foods rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium such as bananas and milk
- Regular monitoring of blood pressure after reaching the age of 35
- Practice meditation and other stress-relieving exercises
- Cut down on caffeine
Blood pressure medications include the following:
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