Heart Health

“You can’t beat a healthy heart.”

What is hypertension?

Close-up of a pair of human hands checking the blood pressure of a patient

Hypertension is more generally known as “high blood pressure” – a very accurate description.

Blood pressure refers to the force of blood pushing against artery walls as it courses through the body, due to the pumping action of the heart. This action is essential to life – to keep blood flowing through your body, and to provide oxygen and energy to your organs.

But if the pressure is too high on an ongoing basis (as is the case with hypertension), the organs can be damaged over time. If the blood pressure is too low, your organs may not get the oxygen they need –another dangerous situation.

Hypertension is often referred to as “the silent killer”, as many people don’t experience any symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, heart failure or a stroke, to name just three of the possible consequences.

When blood pressure is measured, there are two numbers given, for example 120 over 80. The first number is the highest pressure recorded in the arteries when the heart contracts (systolic pressure) and the lower one is the pressure that’s recorded just before the heart begins to contract again (diastolic pressure).

What is considered high blood pressure varies with the age and health of the individual, but anything over 130/90mmHg can be reason for concern, even though blood pressure increases as you get older.

It is generally not really known exactly what causes hypertension. But factors that can make it worse include being overweight, smoking, a lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet high in salt and fat, drinking alcohol, using the contraceptive pill, and taking certain recreational drugs.

In some cases underlying conditions such as diabetes, kidney disorders and hormonal disorders can lead to high blood pressure.

Medication can be used to lower blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will also advise you to lose weight, stop smoking, reduce alcohol intake and drastically reduce your salt intake. Diuretics are also often given to decrease the volume of fluid in the body.

(Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general background information and not to substitute any medical diagnosis or advice received from a qualified healthcare professional.)

References

– Bakris, George. MD. High Blood Pressure. Merck Manual. (May 2014) [Online]
Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/hypertension/overview-of-hypertension. Accessed: 26 July 2015
– Rayner, Brian, Professor. Hypertension. Health24.com. (November 2010) [Online]
Available at: http://www.health24.com/Medical/Hypertension/Overview/What-are-the-causes-and-types-of-hypertension-20130205. Accessed: 26 July 2015

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