What is hypertension?
Written by Ian Jay B. Francisco
Did you know that the world’s leading cause of death is preventable? Hypertensive heart disease causes more deaths than any other illness. It begins as elevated blood pressure—hypertension (HTN).
The heart is a powerful pump the size of a fist. It circulates approximately five liters of life fluid every minute. The exerted force against your arteries is your blood pressure (BP).
Your blood pressure varies with the different activities you do. When you are relaxing, it is lower. In contrast, it increases when you do strenuous activities.
You can gauge it using millimeters of mercury (mmHg) as a unit. A healthcare worker uses a sphygmomanometer to measure the force inside your arteries.
You may wonder what blood pressure numbers, systolic and diastolic, imply. Systolic pressure measures the pressure within your arteries when your heart is beating. Diastolic pressure measures the stress in your arteries when your heart is resting.
BP depends on the amount of blood in your body and the resistance it encounters in your vascular system. If your blood volume is high and your arteries are narrow, you may have hypertension. These are the BP ranges:
Normal. You have normal BP when the reading is < 120/80 mmHg.
Elevated. You have elevated BP when the measurement is 120-129/< 80 mmHg.
Stage 1 high BP. If it reads 130-139/80-89 mmHg, you are in the first hypertension stage.
Stage 2 high BP. You are at this stage if it is ≥ 140/≥ 90 mmHg.
Hypertension crisis. You need to seek professional help right away when it reads > 180/> 120 mmHg. Keep in mind that doctors did not set hypertensive values in stone. Healthcare professionals diagnose HTN when the reading exceeds or equals 140/90 mmHg. Others identify HTN when it is 130/80 mmHg or higher.
HTN is not one disease but a syndrome with many causes. It causes ischemic heart disease, the leading cause of death globally. Because HTN has no warning signs or symptoms, people call it the “silent killer.”
Now that you know the definition of this so-called silent killer, you may wonder what causes it. Experts say that the exact cause of HTN is unknown yet. But increased peripheral vascular resistance causes it.
Hypertension takes years to develop. The factors that influence the likelihood of HTN are controllable and genetic. Thus, anyone is at risk, including you.
There are two types of high HP:
- Primary HTN. Also called essential HTN, it is the most common type and has no known cause.
- Secondary HTN. It is when an underlying health condition causes it.
Unhealthy lifestyle decisions can cause HTN. You are at risk of getting sick if you don’t get enough sleep, physical activity, or nutrition.
Certain medical conditions may also cause your BP to rise. Pregnancy can elevate a mother’s heart rate.
Other risk factors include:
- Smoking. Tobacco’s toxins can damage the lining of your artery walls.
- Obesity. Overweight people’s cardiovascular systems work more to deliver oxygen and nutrition.
- Inactivity. Having a sedentary lifestyle increases your heart rate.
- Too much salt. Sodium induces fluid retention and elevates BP.
- Too little potassium. It helps regulate sodium in your cells.
- Too much alcohol. Alcoholic beverages can harm your heart.
- Stress. It can elevate your BP for a short time.
- Age. Hypertension likelihood increases with aging.
- Race. HTN is common among African people.
- Family history. HTN runs in families.
- Other chronic conditions. Kidney disease, diabetes, and apnea increase your risk of hypertension.
Although some of these factors are inevitable, you can still prevent HTN. What matters is that you can avoid the disease by making better lifestyle choices.
The medical community says that blood is the lifeline of the body. Thus, any illness affecting it and the cardiovascular system will affect the human as a whole. Hypertension can lead to a lot of other complications.
What’s scary about HTN is that little to no symptoms manifest even if BP gets high. There is hardly any early warning sign that you have HTN unless its effects on your body begin to appear. That is why you need to have your BP checked always.
HTN can hurt your general well-being. It can damage your eyes, brain, heart, kidneys, and other organs and organ systems.
When BP increases, artery walls become damaged. As a consequence, cholesterol accumulates in the tears of the artery walls. Thus, the fluid passage becomes restricted.
The deficiency in oxygen and nutrients carried in blood results in organ damage. It manifests as angina (chest pain). It could also cause arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Due to HTN, the heart becomes an inefficient pump. It may cause difficulty in breathing, swelling in the extremities, or fatigue. It can also cause an artery wall to balloon out, forming an aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm is lethal.
Reduced blood flow to the central nervous system may cause cognitive problems. You may experience difficulty in remembering, thinking, or understanding things. Thus, you can associate HTN with dementia.
When brain arteries get blocked, a stroke (cerebrovascular accident) occurs. When neurons cannot get oxygen, they begin to die off.
Hypertension can also affect eyesight. You may suffer from blurry vision and blindness due to the damaged capillaries in your eyes.
HTN causes your body to excrete more calcium via urination. If you are a woman who has undergone menopause, you are at risk of osteoporosis (bone loss). Your bones become frail and susceptible to fractures.
The lungs can also get damaged from HTN. A pulmonary embolism can occur when the arteries in your lungs get blocked. Researchers also linked sleep apnea (loud snoring and breathing problems) to hypertension.
Hypertension can cause sexual dysfunction. When the penis receives insufficient blood, men will have difficulty maintaining an erection. Blocked vessels can also cause vaginal dryness in women.
Like any other organ afflicted by a deficiency in blood supply, the kidneys can also get damaged. They lose the ability to filter out waste from the body. When you have kidney failure, you need to undergo dialysis or a kidney transplant.
The fourth industrial revolution enabled the field of medicine to improve health conditions. You may have expected that chronic illnesses now have a cure. Unfortunately, hypertension has no cure, but you can manage it with medication.
Now that you know the risk factors for hypertension, you can do these to lower your BP with natural means:
- Exercise. It is crucial for your health and can help lower BP.
- Improve your diet. Experts recommend a diet rich in fresh produce and whole grains.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining your weight reduces the strain on your heart.
- Limit your sodium intake. Look for low or no salt foods to lower intake.
- Avoid stress. You can reduce stress by meditating, engaging in a relaxing activity, or exercising.
- Drink with caution. Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Quit smoking. Benefits include better lung health and a lower risk of heart disease.
Lifestyle changes can help lower your BP and cut the risk of heart disease. Your doctor may also prescribe BP medication. These are antihypertensive drugs. Antihypertensive oral medicines include:
- ACE inhibitors
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers
- Calcium channel blockers
- Centrally-acting antihypertensive drugs
The goal of treatment is to normalize your BP. Your doctor may prescribe a medication with few or no adverse effects. This treatment works well.
If medication can only regulate your BP, you’ll need to take it forever. It’s usual to need many medications to control BP. Take the drug as prescribed. Otherwise, you’ll risk a stroke or heart attack.
Your lifestyle plays a very vital role in curbing hypertension. It includes the food and beverages you consume. You need to avoid food that is high in salt, sugar, and trans-fat.
Table salt. When you’re suffering from HTN, you should limit or drop salt in your diet. Try using new culinary spices and plants.
Some sauces and condiments. Sodium-rich foods include ketchup, soy sauce, salad dressing, barbecue sauce, and steak sauce.
Saturated and trans fats. Fried foods and meats high in fat are unhealthy for blood pressure and cholesterol. Limit or avoid red meat. If you drink a lot of dairy products, go for low-fat.
Fried food. You can bake or sauté instead of frying. Air fryers are an excellent alternative.
Fast food. Processed food cooked in high-fat oils is what they serve at fast-food restaurants. They also have a lot of salt.
Processed food. Manufacturers salt them to keep their flavor during canning, packing, or freezing.
Cured meats. When manufacturers preserve, cure, or salt lunch meats, they increase their sodium content.
Salted snacks. Many crackers, chips, and even cookies are bad choices.
Caffeine. You should avoid caffeine if you have HTN. If you like coffee, try the decaffeinated one if you can’t give it up.
Alcohol. A small amount of alcohol can lower your blood pressure, but too much can raise it.
Soda. It is high in sugar and empty calories.
Therapies for HTN are not curative. You have to continue them forever to manage the disease. If you have HTN, you can add healthy drinks to your diet to help manage your BP.
There is no available source on the internet that singles out any drink as the best. If you want to manage your HTN, you might want to try these drinks:
- Apple cider vinegar. It flushes the body of salt and poisons. The rennin enzyme lowers blood pressure.
- Lemon water. Lemon water is a cell cleanser. It also softens arteries, reducing the pressure within them.
- Methi water. The fiber in methi or fenugreek water helps lower the pressure.
- Chia seeds infused water. Chia seeds have a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. They help thin the blood and reduce its pressure.
- Tomato juice. Japanese researchers reported in 2019 that it could improve systolic and diastolic pressure.
- Beet juice. A study from 2016 found out that raw beet juice lowered BP.
- Prune juice. Researchers reported that people who eat prunes daily had reduced BP.
- Pomegranate juice. People who drank pomegranate juice had lower systolic and diastolic pressure.
- Berry juice. A literature review in 2020 said that cranberry or cherry juice might help lower BP.
- Skim milk. Experts concluded that drinking low-fat milk yields a lower risk of hypertension.
- Tea. Green tea was effective in reducing blood pressure in a 2014 study.
All in all, the best all-natural beverage you can take is still water. Keeping yourself hydrated daily by drinking six to eight glasses helps regulate BP. If you drink it in moderation, you are on the right track.
There is an ongoing debate on how caffeine affects blood pressure. Previous studies show conflicting results about this subject. But coffee has shown properties that both elevate and lower blood pressure.
Caffeine can elevate your blood pressure, even if you don’t have hypertension. This sudden rise in blood pressure is unknown. Caffeine’s effect on blood pressure varies by individual.
Caffeine may inhibit a hormone that widens arteries. Other researchers believe caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands, raising blood pressure.
Also, avoid caffeine before activities that raise your blood pressure. Examples of such are exercising, weightlifting, or intense physical labor.
Greek researchers in 2010 claim otherwise. They said that coffee improves the elasticity of blood vessels. The vascular systems of those who drank one to two cups of coffee were better than those who drank less or more.
More researchers need to look into these findings to confirm these. But you can be sure that drinking coffee in moderation will not harm you.
7 Ways To Lower Blood Pressure Without Drugs | Florida Medical Clinic. (2018, August 30). Florida Medical Clinic; Florida Medical Clinic. https://www.floridamedicalclinic.com/blog/lowering-blood-pressure-without-medication/
11 Foods that Increase Blood Pressure – Durham Nephrology Associates, PA. (2019, November 14). Durham Nephrology Associates, PA. https://www.durhamnephrology.com/foods-that-increase-blood-pressure/
Beckerman, J. (2021, August 6). Causes of High Blood Pressure. WebMD; WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/blood-pressure-causes
Beckerman, J. (2021, February 5). High Blood Pressure and Hypertensive Heart Disease. WebMD; WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/hypertensive-heart- disease#:~:text=Hypertensive%20heart%20disease%20is%20the,thickening%20of%20the%20heart%20mu scle).
CDC. (2021, May 18). High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm#:~:text=High%20blood%20pressure%2C%20also%20calle d,blood%20pressure%20(or%20hypertension).
Centre for Health Protection, Department of Health – Hypertension – the Preventable and Treatable Silent Killer. (2013). Chp.gov.hk. https://www.chp.gov.hk/en/features/28272.html#:~:text=Hypertension%20is%20a%20chronic%20diseas e,follow%20up%2C%20usually%20for%20life.
Goldman, R. (2018, January 22). The Effects of Hypertension on the Body. Healthline; Healthline Media. https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/effect-on-body
High blood pressure (hypertension) – Symptoms and causes. (2021). Mayo Clinic; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410
Laino, C. (2010, September). Coffee May Combat High Blood Pressure. WebMD; WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/news/20100901/coffee-may-combat-high- blood-pressure
Lopez-Jimenez, F. (2021, June 8). How does caffeine affect blood pressure? Mayo Clinic; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood- pressure/faq
McPhee, S. J., Hammer, G. D., & Mitrovic, I. (2019). Cardiovascular Disorders: Vascular Disease. In Pathophysiology of disease: An introduction to clinical medicine (8th ed., pp. 778–788). essay, McGraw-Hill Education Medical.
NOVA Online | Cut to the Heart | Map of the Human Heart | Amazing Heart Facts. (2021). Pbs.org. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/heart/heartfacts.html#:~:text=Your%20body%20has%20about%205.6, US%20from%20coast%20to%20coast.
Vandergriendt, C. (2020, September 17). 7 Drinks for Lowering Blood Pressure. Healthline; Healthline Media. https://www.healthline.com/health/drinks-to-lower-blood-pressure#beet-juice
World Health Organization: WHO. (2020, December 9). The top 10 causes of death. Who.int; World Health Organization: WHO. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
World Health Organization: WHO. (2021, August 25). Hypertension. Who.int; World Health Organization: WHO.https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hypertension