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High Blood Pressure

Definition

High Blood Pressure, also known as Hypertension, is a consistently high blood pressure reading greater than 140 / 90. Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries.

Description

Blood Pressure is the force exerted by the blood on the surrounding arteries. The Blood Pressure is determined by the strength of the heart contraction, the resistance and elasticity of the arteries and the stickiness and volume of the blood.

A Blood Pressure reading measures the two extremes of Blood Pressure, called systole and diastole. The systolic reading takes the Blood Pressure at its highest point, when the heart is contracting. The diastolic reading takes the Blood Pressure at its lowest point, when the heart is relaxed. The systolic reading is always the highest number and is shown on top, for example: 120 (systolic) / 80 (diastolic).

Blood Pressure varies depending on gender, age, fitness level, diet, illness, weight, smoking, medication and even the time of day. High Blood Pressure accelerates damage to the arteries and formation of plaques on the artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis. It is a major risk factor for many forms of heart disease and stroke. People with blood pressure of 140/90 or higher on at least two occasions are said to have high blood pressure. If the levels remain high, the doctor will probably begin treatment. Patients with blood pressure readings of 200/120 or higher need treatment immediately. People with diabetes are treated if their blood pressure rises above 135/80, as this population already has a high risk of heart disease.

Consistently high blood pressure forces the heart to work far beyond its capacity. Besides injuring blood vessels, it can damage the brain, eyes, and kidneys. Even so, many people with high blood pressure do not realise they have the condition. Despite the tendency of Hypertension to cause serious damage it rarely causes symptoms and this is why Hypertension is often called "the silent killer". Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to vision problems, as well as to heart attack, stroke, and other potentially fatal conditions, including kidney failure.

A recent scientific report identified people with blood pressure slightly higher than 120/80 as a category at high risk for Hypertension. This condition is called prehypertension and affects millions of men and women worldwide. A person diagnosed with prehypertension would not normally be advised to take medication unless another health issue exists. The person would be encouraged to begin lifestyle modifications to prevent stroke and heart disease. Lifestyle modifications include losing excess weight, exercising, limiting alcohol, following a heart-healthy, low-salt diet and quitting smoking.

The same report stated that for people over 50 years of age, systolic blood pressure is more important than diastolic blood pressure as a cardiovascular risk factor. The risk of heart disease and stroke begins to increase at a blood pressure of 115/75 which has prompted health experts to lower the acceptable normal range to promote more aggressive and earlier treatment of High Blood Pressure.

High Blood Pressure can be classified into either primary or secondary Hypertension. Primary Hypertension has no identifiable cause. About 90-95% of all Hypertension is Primary Hypertension. Primary Hypertension is thought to relate to a combination of lifestyle, environmental, dietary, hereditary and emotional factors. Secondary Hypertension has an identifiable cause such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, medication toxicity and various other conditions. Treatment of secondary Hypertension depends on the underlying condition.

Reference Ranges

Normal

  • Systolic: less than 120
  • Diastolic: less than 80

High-Normal

  • Systolic: 120 - 139
  • Diastolic: 80 - 89

Hypertension Grade 1 (mild)

  • Systolic: 140 - 159
  • Diastolic: 90 - 99

Hypertension Grade 2 (moderate)

  • Systolic: 160 - 179
  • Diastolic: 100 - 109

Hypertension Grade 3 (severe)

  • Systolic: more than or equal to 180
  • Diastolic: more than or equal to 110

Isolated Systolic Hypertension

  • Systolic: more than or equal to 140
  • Diastolic: less than 90

Possible Causes

Primary Hypertension does not have one single identifiable cause. The following conditions are often associated with High Blood Pressure:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive intake of sodium (salt), alcohol or caffeine
  • Oral contraceptive pill, especially in women over 35 years who smoke.
  • Stress.
  • Lack of exercise.

Signs and Symptoms

High Blood Pressure often does not cause symptoms until organ damage occurs. For this reason it is important to have your blood pressure monitored regularly by a health professional. Signs of sudden, severe High Blood Pressure can include headaches, sweating, rapid pulse, shortness of breath, dizziness, sleeplessness and visual disturbances.

Treatment Options

  • Lifestyle changes are a critical part of managing High Blood Pressure. These measures include weight reduction, a healthy diet low in salt and high in fresh fruits, vegetables and calcium, reducing alcohol consumption, regular moderate physical activity, smoking cessation and stress management.
  • Drug treatment in some cases.
  • Regular monitoring of blood pressure.

Vitamins/Minerals/Herbs

Nutritional supplements may only be beneficial if dietary intake is inadequate. Consult your Doctor before commencing any supplements, as some may interact with prescribed medications.

  • Some studies have shown Coenzyme Q10 to be effective in reducing high blood pressure.
  • Fish oil which contains omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce blood pressure.
  • Vitamin C may reduce elevated blood pressure and aid the body to detoxify toxic metals such as lead, which can contribute to high blood pressure.
  • Garlic has been shown in clinical trials to reduce elevated blood pressure. The mechanisms of action are thought to be through the relaxtion of smooth muscle and the dilation of contricted blood vessels. It is important to note that garlic may increase the effects of warfarin and some oral diabetic agents.
  • Hawthorn has antioxidant and cardiotonic properties. This herb can aid in dilating the artery walls and decreasing blood pressure.

Pharmacist's Advice

Ask your Pharmacist for advice:

  1. Consider a blood pressure monitor for home use.
  2. Anti-smoking products can help reduce cravings when quitting. Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
  3. Some medications may interact with Hypertension drugs. Check with your Pharmacist for any possible drug interactions. Corticosteroids, NSAIDs and certain cough and cold preparations are included in this group.
  4. Exercise regularly. Ask your Pharmacist to recommend home exercise equipment.
  5. Stress Management can help prevent Hypertension. Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
  6. If the diet is inadequate, consider some supplements. See the Vitamins/Minerals/Herbs section of this topic for more information.
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