by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure that affects over 1 billion people worldwide. More than 34% of the adult population, that’s 76 million adults in the US has been diagnosed with hypertension and are currently taking antihypertensive medications. The incidence of hypertension has been increasing steadily since the early ’90’s, but not only in adults, it has also been increasing steadily in children. Most experts cite the increase in childhood obesity for the increase in hypertension in children. Hypertension is more common in African and Native Americans than Caucasian and Mexican Americans.
Your blood pressure is a measurement of the pressure that is in your arteries when your heart is pumping. It is measured by 2 numbers, the first number is the systolic pressure. The systolic pressure is the amount of pressure that is exerted on the artery walls when the heart pumps the blood out into the body. the second number is called the diastolic pressure which is the amount of pressure that remains in the artery after the heart has pumped and is at rest. When you look at your blood pressure it will be designated assystolic/diastolic. A normal blood pressure is considered to be lower than 120/80 and an elevated blood pressure is considered 140/90 or higher. Anything in between is considered to be prehypertensive. In the past most of the focus was placed on the diastolic pressure because the feeling was that having too much pressure in the arteries when the heart was at rest was more dangerous. However, in recent years Drs have discovered that too much pressure on the arteries when the heart pumps can cause the arterial walls to have less elasticity therefore increasing the diastolic pressure.
There are 2 types of hypertension, primary and secondary. Primary hypertension accounts for 90-95% of all diagnosed cases of adult hypertension. In primary hypertension there is no known cause and usually develops slowly over several years. Secondary hypertension accounts for 5-10% of adult hypertension. Secondary hypertension results from an underlying condition, it usually develops suddenly and frequently causes higher blood pressure than in primary hypertension.
There are several things that can increase your risk of developing hypertension. Currently the most common found risk factor is obesity. The larger your body mass the more blood that is required to provide to oxygen and nutrients your body needs. As your blood volume increases so does the pressure with in your arteries as they stretch to allow the blood to pass. Another significant factor that always seems to pop up is exercise. If you lead a sedentary or inactive life style you are at risk for numerous health issues one of the most dangerous being hypertension. Tobacco use not only causes an immediate though temporary elevation in your blood pressure it also releases chemicals that can damage the lining of your arterial walls. Too much sodium in your diet can lead to your body retaining to much fluid therefore increasing your blood pressure. Heavy alcohol intake has also been linked to hypertension.
Hypertension is frequently referred to as the “silent killer” because there are frequently no symptoms to warn you of it’s presence and it can be present for many years without symptoms causing damage to your organs and blood vessels. Undiagnosed hypertension can cause the heart muscle to thicken increasing your chances of having a heart attack. It can also lead to hardening of the arteries, strokes and kidney failure. Some people will experience headaches, or dizziness and some will have nose bleeds. The problem is that these symptoms don’t usually appear until your blood pressure is seriously elevated even to a point of being life threatening. For this reason it’s important to have your blood pressure checked every 1-2 years starting at age 18 or sooner if you have risk factors like obesity or diabetes. lf you are one of those that doesn’t go to your Dr for regular check ups there are blood pressure machines that will take you blood pressure in most every pharmacy I’ve ever been in and there are always free blood pressure clinics somewhere, even out in the middle of nowhere where I lived.
As always I believe prevention is the best way to go especially with hypertension because it is so dangerous. Eating a “heart healthy” diet, one that’s high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low fat or fat free dairy products while avoiding refined sugars, processed foods and red meat. Exercise, exercise, exercise! If you smoke, quit. Also limit or avoid alcohol. Most importantly maintaining a healthy weight. If you are over weight your blood pressure is probably already elevated. Losing weight and changing your lifestyle can be the difference between serious complications and living a longer, healthier life.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.