Hypertension is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, heart failure, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, or kidney impairment. Because there are no noticeable symptoms for hypertension, it can go unnoticed for years and is sometimes referred to as the silent killer. Hypertension is detected by a simple measurement with a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. It is classified by a consistent blood pressure reading of 140 over 90 mmHg or higher. A normal blood pressure is 120/80.
In a hypertensive state, arterial walls are under high pressure which can cause them to crack or tear. Deposits of fatty material (cholesterol) fills these cracks and continues to build up, eventually creating blockage within the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. If the artery totally closes off, a heart attack ensues. If the blockage breaks off and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke. Even if total blockage never occurs, the restricted arteries limits blood flow and can cause the heart to become so weak that it just stops pumping, resulting in heart failure.
Despite the known risks of being hypertensive, incidence continues to grow. In the United
States, nearly 1 in 3 adults over the age of 20 are hypertensive and taking medication for it. By 2025, it is expected that 1.56 billion in the world will be hypertensive. It is a growing pandemic that if left alone, will result in even higher rates of heart disease.
Risk Factors and Solutions
Much of the risk of hypertension can be attributed to lifestyle factors such as inactivity, high salt intake, smoking, and alcohol consumption. An unhealthy diet also plays a large role in higher levels of blood pressure.
Luckily these lifestyle factors are modifiable. Obtaining the recommended activity levels of 150 minutes or 3-5 days a week of moderate intensity activity is of great importance in reducing risk of hypertension. The increased blood flow can help strengthen artery walls and provides countless other physical and mental benefits. In addition, blood pressure is reduced in post-exercise metabolic state.
Salt intake is another factor to consider. Typical intake is between 9 and 12g per day and blood pressure reductions have been seen at a salt limit of around 5g per day. Alcohol should also be moderated with no more than 1 or 2 drinks per day. Studies show that any amount of tobacco can increase blood pressure and thus, smoking should be eliminated entirely.
Dietary habits also play a role. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been found successful in lowering blood pressure, as recommended by the American Heart Association. It is similar to a Mediterranean diet as it recommends high plant-based food intake. The menu consists of whole grains, lean meats, and an abundance of leafy greens and nutrient rich fruits, causing it to be rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber. With the DASH diet, processed and packaged foods are limited and a low intake of salt is recommended.
Another method of treating hypertension is antihypertensive medications. Often people must take 2 or more types, many of which include side effects such as poor bladder control, constipation, drowsiness and headaches. These medications can be costly and at times, ineffective. The biggest aspect of medicating hypertension is that it only treats the symptom. To really combat the problem other lifestyle changes such as a prudent diet and exercise plan must be maintained to manage the high blood-pressure.
Overall, hypertension is largely preventable. There are, of course, non-modifiable risk factors such as familial genetics, age, and gender. Getting check-ups frequently to monitor your status, adopting an active lifestyle, and consuming a healthy diet reduce your risk significantly and increase the likelihood of a long life.