These are the most frequently asked questions about hypertension.
Question: What is hypertension?
Answer: Hypertension is the term used to describe high blood pressure, which is measured by the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. Hypertension causes the heart to work too much, hardening the walls of the arteries. It heightens the risk of heart failure, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.
Question: What is blood pressure?
Answer: Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood pumped by an individual’s heart as well as the amount of resistance to blood which flows in the arteries. The more blood pumped from the heart and the narrower the arteries, the higher is the blood pressure.
Question: How is blood pressure measured?
Answer: Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers, the top number (systolic blood pressure – this corresponds to the pressure in the arteries as the heart contracts and pumps blood forward into the arteries) and the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure – this represents the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes after the contraction reflecting the lowest pressure to which the arteries are exposed). Normal blood pressure is when a person’s blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mmHg; high blood pressure is when it is 140/90 mmHg or above. When it is 120/80 or higher but below 140/90 it is called pre-hypertension which is indicative of a hypertension prone individual.
Question: Why is hypertension known as “the silent killer”?
Answer: Hypertension develops over many years and it affects nearly everyone eventually. It occurs without any symptoms and has been labeled “the silent killer” due to its progression to eventually develop one or more of the several potentially fatal complications such as heart attacks or strokes.
Question: Who is susceptible to hypertension?
Answer: Everyone is vulnerable to hypertension and more than one out of four adults (and one out of two people over the age of 60) have high blood pressure. A person can have hypertension for many years without displaying any symptoms but it is easily detectable and, once the condition is identified, it can be managed and controlled.
Question: Which factors contribute to hypertension?
Answer: What causes hypertension is largely unknown but factors contributing to the condition are smoking, obesity, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, sodium sensitivity, insufficient calcium, potassium and magnesium consumption, vitamin D deficiency, high levels of alcohol consumption, stress, aging, medicines, genetics, chronic kidney disease, and adrenal and thyroid problems.
Question: What is the difference between essential, secondary and malignant hypertension?
Answer: When no cause to a person’s hypertension is found, it is called essential hypertension and when hypertension is caused by another medical condition or medication it is called secondary hypertension. Malignant hypertension is when a dangerous form of high blood pressure develops, causing severe headache, nausea or vomiting, confusion, changes in vision or nosebleeds. Malignant hypertension is a medical emergency which requires immediate treatment to prevent a stroke.
Question: What is the purpose of treating hypertension?
Answer: Treatment is aimed at lowering the risk of complications. Lowering blood pressure cuts the risk of heart failure, dementia and kidney disease. Lifestyle modification is a major part of prevention and treatment of hypertension and is the recommended treatment for pre-hypertension. Following a healthy eating pattern, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in physical activity, limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking are recommended lifestyle changes.
Question: What are the risks of diabetes and cholesterol combined with hypertension?
Answer: Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease if hypertension is also present. Cholesterol is an important factor in determining the danger of high blood pressure as high cholesterol increases the sensitivity of the arteries to high blood pressure and makes them more prone to damage.
Question: Which preventative measures can be taken?
Answer: It is important that all adults near or past middle age should “know their numbers”. These are your height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Regular blood pressure tests are essential if there is a family tendency towards hypertension. By treating hypertension with lifestyle changes and medication, complications can be avoided and average life expectancy will remain almost normal whereas it will be reduced dramatically if the situation is not controlled and managed.