Hypertension: The Silent Killer

Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure and is diagnosed when our blood pressure exceeds a certain threshold. Essentially, it is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels and the extent of this force depends on two connected factors: the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute and the resistance of the blood vessels.

Whilst most diseases present some form of warning sign that makes it easier to form a solid diagnosis, hypertension presents with no symptoms. This is why it is often referred to as the ‘Silent Killer’ and if left untreated, it is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and even eye diseases.

What causes hypertension?

It seems as if our frenetic lifestyles are a lot to blame. From smoking and excessive alcohol intake to high fat and salt-laden diets, stress and a lack of physical activity, many modern lifestyle factors seem to be responsible for the onset of hypertension. However, other risk factors such as a family history of the disease and chronic, poorly managed stress may also trigger hypertension.

A high blood pressure reading isn’t always a cause for concern. Several factors such as stress and intense exercise can briefly elevate blood pressure, even in those whose blood pressure is normal. Blood pressure can also vary throughout the day, so don’t be alarmed if you get a higher reading when you’re exercising, when you’re anxious or when you’re excited.

On the flip side, don’t be too complacent if your blood pressure reading is lower than usual – blood pressure fluctuates and generally decreases during sleep. If you’ve already been diagnosed with hypertension, be on the safe side and monitor your blood pressure regularly. Though your doctor can diagnose high blood pressure over a number of visits using a sphygmomanometer, which involves applying an inflatable cuff to the upper arm, the good news is that blood pressure can be measured at home using an acceptable home-based blood pressure monitor.

So when should you be concerned?

A hypertension diagnosis is made using two measurements: the first measurement is a systolic reading and is the pressure as the heart pumps blood around the body; the second measurement is a diastolic reading and is the pressure as the heart relaxes and refills with blood.  A normal blood pressure is any measurement that is below 120/80. If your measurement is any higher than that, then it’s time to seek medical attention. A reading of 180/110 signifies a hypertensive crisis and warrants immediate hospitalisation.

What effects does hypertension have on the body?

Hypertension can cause damage to your body for years before it is diagnosed! If left untreated, you could face serious and even fatal complications.

These include:

  • Damaged arteries. Hypertension makes arteries tougher, tighter and less elastic allowing fats to be deposited in your arteries thereby restricting blood flow
  • Damaged heart. Hypertension makes your heart work overtime with far more force than a healthy heart should have to
  • Damaged brain. Your brain relies on a healthy supply of oxygen-rich blood to work properly and high blood pressure can reduce your brain’s supply of blood

How can hypertension be prevented?

It is possible to both treat and prevent hypertension with simple lifestyle changes. Lower your salt intake to 5g per day; increase your fresh fruit and vegetable intake; choose lean proteins such as chicken and fish instead of red meat; reduce your weight; ensure that you’re exercising regularly; and minimise your stress levels. However, if your doctor decides that medication is required, ensure that you go for regular check-ups and speak to your doctor about any potential drug interactions.

Published on May 10, 2017