High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a serious health condition that affects more than 1 billion people globally. Hypertension causes over 50% of heart disease, stroke, and heart failure cases. It is called a ‘silent killer’ because the symptoms of high blood pressure often do not show up until the condition is severe. According to World Heart Federation, 74% of cardiologists globally report that their patients are unaware they are at risk of high blood pressure.
Fortunately, knowledge is power! It is important to learn and understand the risks associated with high blood pressure so that necessary steps can be taken to reduce its impact. With the help of proper lifestyle changes and medical treatment, hypertension can be controlled.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure occurs when the force of the blood which moves through arteries is too high against the artery walls, putting strain on organs throughout your body.
Hypertension can be defined using specific systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. Different countries have their own guidelines for defying high blood pressure but they are generally similar.
According to the latest guideline, published by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology Guidelines in 2017, high blood pressure is defined as measurements above 130 for systolic and 80 for diabolic readings.
There are several categories of high blood pressure, each of which has its own risks and treatment methods.
What are the symptoms of hypertension?
High blood pressure often does not have symptoms until it is severe. By being aware of the symptoms and catching them in time, you can help ensure that your blood pressure is under control.
1. Headaches. Mild to severe headaches are common symptoms of high blood pressure.
2. Dizziness. High blood pressure can often cause people to feel dizzy or lightheaded, especially if they are standing suddenly after sitting for long periods of time.
3. Nosebleeds. Hypertension can lead to recurring nosebleeds, which may be caused by fragile blood vessels in the nose.
4. Fatigue. Feeling tired or fatigued is another common symptom of high blood pressure, as it causes your body to work harder than normal to pump blood throughout your body.
5. Shortness of breath. Hypertension can cause shortness of breath due to a lack of oxygen in the lungs.
6. Chest pain. Hypertension can cause chest pain due to a lack of oxygen reaching the heart.
7. Irregular heartbeat. A rapid or irregular heartbeat is another symptom of hypertension. If your pulse feels unusually fast and out of rhythm, you should see a doctor, as it may be a sign of a more serious underlying issue.
8. Hearing loss and ringing ears. Studies confirmed the association between hypertension and a decrease in hearing in individuals aged between 45 and 64.
9. Visual changes. Blurry vision or spots before your eyes (floaters) are indicative of high blood pressure.
10. Swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet. High blood pressure can cause fluid to accumulate in the lower extremities, resulting in swelling and discomfort.
11. Difficulty sleeping. High blood pressure may also manifest itself through difficulty sleeping, characterized by waking up frequently during the night.
12. Cognitive changes. Hypertension can also influence your mental clarity and concentration levels, making it difficult to focus and think clearly.
Why is hypertension so dangerous?
If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to several dangerous conditions. Here are some of them:
1. Coronary heart disease. High blood pressure can lead to coronary heart disease as it puts extra strain on the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
2. Kidney damage. Damage to the kidneys caused by high blood pressure prevents them from filtering waste and fluid from the body, which can lead to kidney failure.
3. Aneurysm. High blood pressure can cause aneurysms or weak spots in the walls of the arteries that could eventually rupture, leading to life-threatening internal bleeding.
4. Dementia. Hypertension is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia and other cognitive illness.
5. Vision loss. Hypertension is a major risk factor for vision loss, as it can damage the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. This may lead to blurred vision and blindness.
6. Angina Hypertension narrows the arteries that provide oxygen to the heart, leading to angina or chest pain.
7. Peripheral artery disease High blood pressure can cause narrowing of the arteries in the legs and arms, leading to peripheral artery disease, pain when walking, and potential amputation.
8. Aortic dissection High blood pressure puts extra strain on the walls of the aorta, which can lead to an aortic dissection – tearing of the inner layer of the artery. This is an emergency medical condition that must be treated immediately.
9. Sleep apnea. Hypertension has been linked to sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is interrupted during sleep. This can lead to fatigue and other health problems.
Nine habits to avoid high blood pressure
Certain lifestyle habits can prevent your likelihood of developing hypertension. It is much better to prevent a disease than take a pill when you already have it. These nine habits can significantly reduce your risk and, at the same time, improve the quality of your life and reduce the risks of other diseases.
1Get your 150 minutes of exercise in a week
Regular physical activity helps to improve the flexibility and elasticity of your blood vessels, which can improve blood flow and reduce the resistance against which your heart has to pump. This lowers the risk of hypertension. Additionally, regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is an important factor in managing blood pressure.
One of the studies showed that people who exercise more than 4 hours per week have a 19% lower risk of high blood pressure than those who exercise less than one hour per week. The standard recommendation for adults is to have at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week (or 150 minutes total per week).
2Eat veggies and forget about processed foods
A balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and foods rich in potassium, fibre, and protein can help prevent hypertension. It is also good to avoid processed foods and foods with high levels of saturated fat.
3Cut back on salt intake
Eating too much salt can cause your body to retain fluid, which in turn raises your blood pressure. The average person should consume between 1,500 – 2,300 mg of salt per day. Try swapping out salty snacks for healthier options like nuts or fruits and vegetables and look for “low-sodium” labels when you buy packaged foods.
4Consume less sugar
According to nutrition expert Dr Eric Berg, eating sugar increases blood pressure. Sugar causes the rise of insulin levels in your body. That hormone triggers the spike of the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the ‘flight or fight’ effect. This leads to increased heart rate, insomnia, anxiety and nervousness. To prevent the alertness which causes hypertension, try to cut back on sweets.
5Reduce insulin resistance
Many experts advise maintaining a healthy weight and fighting obesity to prevent high blood pressure. For many people losing weight is mostly the result of reducing insulin resistance (IR). When you have proper IR you can easily control your hunger and lose kilos or pounds, thereby preventing hypertension. There are many ways to fight insulin resistance, including exercising and eating less food with trans fats and saturated fats.
6Limit alcohol and energy drinks
Drinking a lot of alcohol cause the muscles in your blood vessels to become narrower. Therefore excessive drinking can increase your blood pressure. It’s best to limit yourself to at least one drink a day.
The combination of ingredients in different types of energy drinks may also cause hypertension. A small study conducted in 2019 showed that people who drank 0.9 litres (32 ounces) of energy drinks in an hour had higher blood pressure four hours later.
The nicotine contained in cigarettes is known to increase blood pressure. Smoking is one of the worst things for your blood pressure and overall health. It is time to leave this bad habit in the past, and if you currently do not smoke – do not start.
8Calm down and minimize stress levels
When stressed, your body releases hormones that increase alertness, including adrenaline. Adrenaline makes your heartbeat faster, resulting in blood pressure rise. Chronic stress can lead to hypertension, so it’s important to take steps to relax and unwind. This could involve meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or other activities that help you de-stress.
9Get enough quality sleep
A lack of sleep could cause changes in the production of hormones that control stress and metabolism. Not getting proper sleep on a regular basis is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. To fight hypertension, work on the schedule and quality of your sleep.
Medical treatment of high blood pressure
For those who are unable to achieve adequate control of their blood pressure through lifestyle modification alone, medications may be necessary to reduce the risk of complications.
It is important to note that medication should only be taken as prescribed by a doctor, and any changes in dose or regimen should first be discussed with them.
How to beat hypertension with good habits
High blood pressure can be managed by lifestyle changes such as reducing salt intake, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding stress, and reducing alcohol consumption. In addition, medications may be prescribed to help lower blood pressure. With proper management, high blood pressure can be controlled thereby reducing the risks of serious health issues such as stroke, heart attack and kidney disease. Small lifestyle changes may lead to big benefits in managing your high blood pressure.
Hungry for knowledge? Here’s more
If you’re interested in lowering your blood pressure with the help of healthy eating, check out the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This dietary pattern was developed and recommended by the U.S.-based National Institutes of Health. According to the 2014 study DASH diet was found to result in significant decreases in systolic BP (-5·2 mmHg) and diastolic (-2·6 mmHg) blood pressure.
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