Everything You Ever Wanted, or Will Ever Need to Know About Hypertension

silent heart attack            The risk of high blood pressure is one of the most pertinent issues in today's medical world. Media, news articles and advertisements warn us daily of the devastating effects of high blood pressure. There are tens, perhaps hundreds of drugs out there claiming to be the most effective way of reducing high blood pressure, and countless news segments advising us of the proper way to reduce blood pressure through exercise, the reduction of alcohol intake and meditation.
            With the flood of information that has appeared in the last few years about keeping your blood pressure in check, filtering out the best and most accurate information can be intimidating. However, assessing the risks of blood pressure and hypertension has never been more important with obesity at record highs, and the nation's health deteriorating.

By understanding the risks of high blood pressure, educating yourself in risk management, and becoming informed on the consequences of not addressing them, you can make more beneficial decisions relating to your health.
Hypertension

Before we can speak to the risk factors of high blood pressure, we must first address what blood pressure is. Blood pressure refers to the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Much like the way an over pumped tire can quickly become damaged, blood vessels and capillaries can also wear out from too much pressure.

Blood pressure is measured by two numbers. The first number which usually appears on top of the second represents the pressure on the artery walls when they are filled with blood. The second number represents the pressure on artery walls in between beats, when the heart takes a momentary break.

Risk Factors

Perhaps the best way to deal with high blood pressure is to prevent it all together. Although hypertension is generally known to be a silent killer, there are precautionary actions you can take to reduce the chances of your blood pressure rising.

Chronic Conditions: High cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea can all increase your risk for heart disease. If you have any of these conditions, talk to your doctor about controlling them and about how they may interfere with your blood pressure.

Stress: Stress can cause short but dramatic, perhaps life threatening spikes in blood pressure. Long term bouts of anxiety can lead to serious heart disease. Try to deal with the source of your anxiety or stress immediately, but do not use tobacco or alcohol to do so. Not only will alcohol do little to correct your stress, it will also lead to hypertension.

Obesity: As your weight increases, so does the amount of blood needed to supply oxygen and nutrients to your body tissues. The more blood in your body, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood, and thus the more pressure is put on the artery walls.

Lack of physical activity: Without regular physical activity to keep the heart strong, there is little to slow or stop the effects of hypertension. In addition, lack of physical activity can cause obesity.

Sodium Overdose: Too much sodium is one of the most detrimental substances to your heart. Sodium causes your body to retain body fluid, which in turn increases blood pressure

Potassium Deficiency: Potassium is fundamental to the process of sodium absorption into the cells. Without enough amounts of potassium, sodium will sit in your blood and raise your blood pressure.

Vitamin D Deficiency: Whether or not vitamin D actually helps prevent heart disease or not is still in debated. Some researchers believe that vitamin D effects an enzyme produced in the kidneys that is directly correlated with blood pressure.

Alcohol Overdose: Heavy alcohol consumption over a long period of time can severely damage the heart. In addition, binge drinking causes your blood pressure to spike.

Age: The older you get, the greater your risk for high blood pressure.

Sex: Men are more likely to develop high blood pressure in their 30s and 40s while women are more likely to see hypertension after menopause.

Race: Hypertension is much more common in African Americans and develops at an earlier age than Caucasians.

Symptoms

A contributing factor to the seriousness of high blood pressure is how hard it is to detect. You could be suffering from high blood pressure right now and wouldn't have any idea because you don't display any symptoms. In fact, the majority of Canadians go through life without even knowing their lives are in danger from high blood pressure.

By and large, the symptoms of hypertension are case specific. Even more troubling is the similarity between hypertension symptoms and the symptoms of many other common ailments. With that said, please do not take lightly any of the following symptoms if you do indeed possess them. Immediately contact your doctor or health physician if any of the following apply:

  • Severe headache
  • Confusion or fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Bloody or red urine
  • Pounding in your chest, neck, or ears
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

Generally, these symptoms represent the symptoms of the most severe cases of high blood pressure. If you find yourself experiencing many of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately as your may be at risk of a hypertension crisis, which could lead to a stroke or a heart attack.

Diagnosis

High blood pressure is often referred to as a "silent disease" because it rarely displays any noticeable symptoms until it reaches more critical stages. Because of this, regularly checking your blood pressure for any irregular values is fundamental to staying healthy.

A doctor can measure the blood pressure of a patient by using a sphygmomanometer, which consists of a stethoscope, a pump, an arm cuff, a dial, and a valve. Values close to 120/80 represent normal blood pressure. Blood pressure that is 120 to 139/80 to 89 is considered to be prehypertension. Anything above 140/90 is full fledged hypertension. If your doctor reads your blood pressure as over 140/90 the first time, don't be frightened. Many things can change your blood pressure such as age, heart conditions, emotions, physical activity, and medications you take. Typically, three readings are taken after five minutes of relaxation before a doctor can determine if more testing is needed.

If the doctor concludes that you may have high blood pressure, you are sent on to take more sophisticated, modern tests. Either an Electrocardiogram (ECG) or an Echocardiogram will be used. In addition, your doctor will probably ask you a few questions about your medical history. Most of the questions will concern certain factors that increase your risk of hypertension such as previous heart conditions, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and heart disease in the family.

Treatment

So, your doctor gave you the bad news. You may have high blood pressure. Don't worry, it's not the end of the world. Hypertension is one of the most manageable heart diseases out there, and you likely aren't in the red zone yet. So what can you do to keep your blood pressure in a reasonable range? Despite what you may think, harsh drugs with debilitating side effects and complete lifestyle changes are not your only options. Here are a few simple healthy changes you can make to your life that won't take up an unreasonable amount of time:

  • Lose excess weight, especially if you are overweight.
  • Quit Smoking.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day.
  • Reduce sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (about one teaspoon of salt) a day at the most.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise (30 minutes at a time) a few days a week.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and increase intake of low fat dairy products, vegetables, and fruits.

After taking these simple steps to get your blood pressure under control, talk to your doctor about your drug options. Here are some commonly used drugs to treat hypertension:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers

Diuretics are the usual first course of action in dealing with high blood pressure. The good thing about diuretics is that there are many different types, which ensures that there is one out there that will work for you. If your blood pressure is significantly higher than normal, your doctor may recommend starting you off on two drugs.

After discussing these options with your doctor and choosing a course of action that fits your lifestyle, plan future visits to ensure that you continue on the path to controlling your blood pressure.

See your doctor at least once every three weeks until your target blood pressure is reached. Once or twice a year your doctor may run potassium tests to ensure they are not at abnormal levels, as diuretics and ACE inhibitors can sometimes interfere with potassium levels. Also, your doctor may check your magnesium and creatinine levels to make sure you are not developing kidney disease.

Long Term Effects

The worst action to take against hypertension is inaction. Allowing high blood pressure to persist without making small, yet fundamentally important changes can lead to even greater consequences. If left unchecked, hypertension can evolve into a plethora of life threatening ailments.

Leaving your high blood pressure untreated is similar to leaving a faucet on high for an extended period of time. Sooner or later, leaks will start to appear in the pipes. Here are some of the areas of the body that may be affected by long term high blood pressure.

Eyes: Delicate blood vessels in the eye are susceptible to rupture and tears. High blood pressure can often rip these vessels, and may even cause you to go blind.

Brain: The blood vessels in the brain are much more complex and delicate than the rest of the body. High blood pressure greatly increases your chances of one of these vessels ripping or becoming blocked, resulting in a stroke.

Heart: High blood pressure occurs when the blood has to work harder to allow blood to reach all parts of the body. Because of the increased stress on the heart, it can quickly grow, and become thick and inefficient, increasing your chances of a heart attack.

Kidneys: Almost a third of all people put onto a dialysis suffer from hypertension, and an even greater percentage of those people will die. High blood pressure greatly increases your chances for kidney failure.

Obviously, the risk of high blood pressure is real. In order to combat this growing epidemic, people all across the world must take precautionary steps to avoid hypertension. To become complacent in the fight against high blood pressure is to admit defeat. Quick, decisive action is the best plan of attack against such a silent killer. By talking to your doctor, you can overcome high blood pressure, and take control of your heart and health.

Please call your HealthwoRx™ physician at 954.967.6550 to schedule a health evaluation.