What is hypertension and how to deal with it

Human beings have a remarkably excellent cardiovascular system. The human heart pumps more than 6000 liters of blood through the body in a day and beats around 30 to 40 million times a year.

But, as our lifestyles have gone sedentary, stress has begun to set in and our eating habits have changed the incidence of diseases of the cardiovascular system have increased greatly.

According to an estimate, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of worldwide mortality with about 80% of the burden occurring in developing countries.

Of all these, one of the major culprit and an essential precursor leading to heart attacks is Hypertension (chronic increase in blood pressure of an individual).

What is Hypertension?

  • Sustained systolic pressure above 139mm of Hg and sustained diastolic pressure above 49 mm of Hg (or simply blood pressure of 140/90 or above) is clinically significant hypertension which is associated with increased risk of atherosclerotic disease.
  • Risk of heart disease increase continuously with increase in pressure above 120/80mm of Hg (normal blood pressure). Hence there is no specific and rigidly defined threshold for the increase in risk of heart disease.
    Hence if your BP is found to be above normal continuously, go soon to a doctor and get your investigations done. [Also read: Heart attack and other heart conditions]
  • If you are a patient of diabetes along with hypertension, you are at a higher risk of heart attack. 
  • You should regularly monitor your blood sugar levels and blood pressure at home and report the changes to your doctor.

What causes Hypertension?

95% of all hypertension is idiopathic. without any identifiable cause. This type of hypertension is categorized as Essential Hypertension.

The remaining 5% (categorized as Secondary Hypertension) is associated with following major disorders:

  1. Renal diseases such as Renal Artery Stenosis, Renal Vasculitis (inflammation of the renal vasculature) or Renal Tumors etc.
  2. Endorcrine disorders such as Cushing’s syndrome, some Adrenal gland tumors, Hyperthyroidism etc.
  3. Cardiovascular disorders as Rigidity or Coarctation / Narrowing of the Aorta ( the major and largest artery of the body , Vasculitis etc.
  4. Some neurological disorders such as Sleep Apnea , Stress or increase in Intra Cranial pressure too causes hyper tension.
  5. If you are pregnant and having hypertension, this might be physiological (pregnancy induced estrogen causes increase in BP) or pathological. Go consult your doctor immediately.
  6. Oral contraceptive pills too might cause an increase in BP. Be cautious while using the OCPs if you are a hypertensive.

 What determines your risk of having hypertension?

  1. Genetics and your family history
  2. Increasing age (leads to rigid arteries)
  3. Stressful life
  4. Obesity (go check whether your BMI is normal or not)
  5. Smoking
  6. Heavy salt consumption
  7. Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Lifestyle
  8. Heavy Alcohol consumption
  9. Above mentioned other disorders

What can hypertension lead to?

Untreated Hypertension in a long run can advance to the following deleterious conditions:

  • Atherosclerosis leading to heart attack
  • Cardiac Hypertrophy (increase in size of the heart)
  • Heart failure (insufficient function of blood pumping by the heart)
  • Aortic aneurysm and rupture (weakening of the aortic wall leading to rupture, an emergency condition)
  • Aortic dissection (tear in the wall of aorta, the largest blood vessel of the body)
  • Organ failure especially Kidney failure
  • Stroke (decreased or ceased blood supply to the brain, an emergency condition)

How to reduce your risk of developing hypertension or manage your hypertension?

  1. Start exercising at least 3 times a week to begin with and maintain an active lifestyle.
  2. Quit smoking.
  3. Spend time with family and friends to get away from your monotonous and stressful work schedule.
  4. Start meditating. This can be as simple as sitting quietly with your eyes closed for 10 minutes and visualizing pleasure giving moments of your life and positive thinking)
  5. Quit junk food and take healthy diet (low saturated fat and low total fat, more fibrous diet).
  6. Consume more green leafy vegetables and fruits.
  7. Reduce your intake of salt (majority of which might come from packaged foods)
  8. Reduce your weight and maintain your BMI in the normal range.
  9. Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men, one drink a day for women.

Medications for Hypertension

Your doctor might prescribe various medications and their combinations for hypertension. These include-

  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme(ACE) inhibitor
  • Angiotensin II receptor blocker (ARBs)
  • Beta- blockers
  • Renin inhibitors

 Following up with Hypertension Treatment

  • See your doctor at least once a month after starting of the treatment till your BP goal is reached and then the visits might be reduced to once in 3 to 6 months.
  • Get your BP checked regularly (you can buy an automated sphygmomanometer—an instrument to measure BP—to use at home).
  • Get your blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels checked regularly.
  • Get your electrolyte levels checked regularly as some drugs might affect the levels.
  • Get your BUN/Creatinine checked for your kidney health.
  • Get eye checkups done for avoiding loss of vision.
  • Follow the advice of your doctor and make an effective exercise plan for yourself consulting him.

The key of avoiding majority of cardiovascular disorders lies in a healthy and stress free lifestyle. Follow the steps and see the benefits!