What Is High Blood Pressure?

When your blood pressure registers higher than 140/90 mm Hg during your visit to the doctor’s office (in case readings are done at home or in transit, the norm is 135/85 mm Hg or above) you are regarded as having high blood pressure or hypertension.

High blood pressure can be in the form of:

  • High systolic pressure (eg 175/70 mm Hg),
  • High diastolic pressure (eg 125/110 mm Hg), or
  • Both high systolic and diastolic pressure (eg 175/110 mm Hg)

That said, the diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure can vary from to person.

A) If your blood pressure is 140/90 mm Hg or more (or at home/transitory readings show 135/85 mm Hg or over)

Blood pressure that remains within this range calls for treatment to reduce it, especially if:

  • You run a high risk of cardiovascular disease (detailed below), or
  • You have cardiovascular disease (detailed below), or
  • You have diabetes, or
  • You have suffered damage to your kidney or kidney owing to high blood pressure.

B) If your blood pressure is between 130/80 mm Hg and 140/90 mm Hg

This level is considered normal for most people. If your blood pressure is 130/80 mm Hg or more, treatment may be called for if:

  • You have kidney issues or other complications caused by diabetes, or
  • You have suffered a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or a heart attack or other cardiovascular incident, or
  • You have chronic kidney diseases.

Diagnosis of High Blood Pressure

Having a single high blood pressure reading does not mean you have hypertension. Blood pressure tends to vary during the day and a short-time high blood pressure could be experienced occasionally, such as after rigorous exercise, or when you undergo stress or anxiety.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is diagnosed when your blood pressure readings – taken at different times and when you are in relaxed state – are consistently high.

Period of Observation

In case of a random high reading, your doctor may advise a period of observation during which several readings will be taken at frequent intervals during such period. The observation period will vary in accordance with the preliminary reading that prompted the observation period and will also depend on any other health risk factors that may be present.

The observation period presents you with an opportunity to effect lifestyle changes that could help lower blood pressure (detailed below). If high blood pressure readings are recorded even after an observation period, medicines could be prescribed, keeping your risk factors in mind (detailed below).

Causes of High Blood Pressure

In a majority of cases, the cause remains unknown.

In such instances, the blood pressure suffered is termed as essential hypertension. The pressure in the arteries will vary depending on the intensity of pumping by the heart, and the amount of resistance in the arteries. A slight narrowing of the arteries is presumed to raise the resistance to the flow of blood, thereby increasing the blood pressure. There is no clarity as to why the arteries narrow, with many plausible factors.

In certain instances, other conditions cause high blood pressure.

In such instances, the blood pressure suffered is termed as secondary hypertension. For instance, high blood pressure could be the result of problems related to hormones or kidneys.

Complications of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure should be treated promptly and lifestyle medications need to be put in place to avoid complications. Untreated or undertreated blood pressure can cause a wide array of complications.

High blood pressure makes you vulnerable to developing a cardiovascular disease (such as a stroke or a heart attack); it can also lead to future damage to your kidneys. Over time, a person suffering from high blood pressure could suffer damage to his arteries and suffer heart strain. As a rule, health risk is directly proportional with high blood pressure. That said, cardiovascular disease could also develop owing to factors other than high blood pressure.

Cardiovascular Diseases

Ailments relating to the heart, such as cardiac muscle, or those involving blood vessels (vasculature) are termed as cardiovascular diseases. That said, doctors talking about cardiovascular diseases usually refer to diseases of the heart or blood vessels that result from atheroma, small fatty lumps generated within arteries’ inner lining. This hardening of the arteries is also called atherosclerosis. Peripheral vascular disease, TIA, stroke, cardiac arrest and angina are amongst the cardiovascular diseases resulting from atheroma.

Risk factors for cardiovascular diseases:

Everybody has some risk of developing atheroma which may cause one or more cardiovascular diseases. However, certain risk factors increase the risk. These include:

Lifestyle risk factors that can be prevented or changed:

  • Smoking.
  • Lack of physical activity (a sedentary lifestyle).
  • Obesity.
  • An unhealthy diet.
  • Excess alcohol.

Treatable or partly treatable risk factors:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • High cholesterol blood level.
  • High triglyceride (fat) blood level.
  • Diabetes.
  • Kidney diseases that affect kidney function.

Fixed risk factors – ones that you cannot alter:

  • A strong family history. This means if you have a father or brother who developed heart disease or a stroke before they were aged 55, or in a mother or sister before they were aged 65.
  • Being male.
  • An early menopause in women.
  • Age. The older you become, the more likely you are to develop atheroma.

However, if you have a fixed risk factor, you may want to make extra effort to tackle any lifestyle risk factors that can be changed.

Treatment of High Blood Pressure

  • A medicine to lower blood pressure if it is 140/90 mm Hg or higher.
  • A medicine to lower your cholesterol level.
  • A daily low dose of aspirin if you also have angina. This reduces the risk of blood clots forming in the blood vessels over patches of atheroma (which cause strokes and heart attacks).
  • A plan to tackle lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, lack of physical activity, diet, and weight.

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Dr. Stephen Anthony, MD

Dr. Anthony is a qualified medical doctor and has penned many credible articles to educate the public about general health issues. Dr. Anthony has been involved in more than 30 multi-national clinical research trials and has worked with leading medical research companies such as Novartis, Pfizer, Merck etc.

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