Hypertension ̶ or elevated blood pressure ̶ is a severe medical condition that significantly increases the risks of heart, brain, kidney, and other diseases.
An estimated 1.13 billion people worldwide have hypertension.
In 2015, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women had hypertension.
Fewer than 1 in 5 people with hypertension have the problem under control.
Hypertension is a significant cause of premature death worldwide.
One of the global targets for non-communicable diseases is to reduce the prevalence of hypertension by 25% between 2010 and 2025.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is called diastolic pressure.
Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually, the systolic number comes before or above the diastolic number. For example, 120/80 means a systolic of 120 and a diastolic of 80.
How is hypertension diagnosed?
Hypertension usually has no symptoms. Most people with hypertension are
unaware of the problem because it may have no warning signs or symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can include early morning headaches, nosebleeds, irregular heart rhythms, vision changes, and buzzing in the ears. Severe hypertension can cause fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, anxiety, chest pain, and muscle tremors.
So the only way to find out if you have it is to get regular blood pressure checks from your health care provider. Your provider will use a gauge, a stethoscope or electronic sensor, and a blood pressure cuff. They will take two or more readings at separate appointments before making a diagnosis.
For children and teens, the health care provider compares the blood pressure reading to what is normal for other kids who are the same age, height, and gender.
People with diabetes or chronic kidney disease should keep their blood pressure below 130/80.
Who is at risk for hypertension?
Anyone can develop hypertension, but certain factors can increase your risk:
- Age - Older people are at a higher risk of developing hypertension.
- Weight - People who are overweight or have obesity are more likely to develop hypertension.
- Lifestyle - Certain lifestyle habits can raise your risk for hypertension, such as overeating sodium (salt) or not enough potassium, lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking.
- Family history - A family history of hypertension raises the risk of developing hypertension.
What are the complications of uncontrolled hypertension?
Among other complications, hypertension can cause severe damage to the heart. Excessive pressure can harden arteries, decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. This elevated pressure and reduced blood flow can cause:
- Chest pain is also called angina.
- A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is blocked, and heart muscle cells die from lack of oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.
- Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to other vital body organs.
- Irregular heartbeat.
Hypertension can also burst or block arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain, causing a stroke.
In addition, hypertension can cause kidney damage, leading to kidney failure.
How can I prevent hypertension?
You can help prevent hypertension by having a healthy lifestyle. It means:
- Healthy diet: To help manage your blood pressure, you should limit the amount of sodium (salt) that you eat and increase potassium in your diet. It is also essential to eat lower in fat and plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Regular exercise: Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. It would help if you tried to get moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least two and a half hours per week or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is an exercise in which your heart beats harder and you use more oxygen than usual.
- Being at a healthy weight: Being overweight or having obesity increases your risk for hypertension. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you control hypertension and reduce your risk for other health problems.
- Limiting alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain. Men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women only one.
- Not smoking: Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, talk to your health care provider for help in finding the best way for you to quit.
- Managing stress: Learning how to relax and manage stress can improve your emotional and physical health and lower high blood pressure. Stress management techniques include exercising, listening to music, focusing on calm or peace, and meditating.
If you already have hypertension, it is crucial to prevent it from getting worse or causing complications. You should get regular medical care and follow your prescribed treatment plan. Your plan will include healthy lifestyle habit recommendations, possibly medicines and supplements.