Hypertension (high blood pressure)

This is also (scarily) known as the ‘Silent Killer’, meaning that most often people who have high blood do not have any of the symptoms (headache, nausea etc) so it can go undiagnosed and unmanaged for years as it wreaks havoc on your blood vessels. This highlights the importance of getting your blood pressure measured as often as you can, or if you are a worrier, like my wee pops (father), you can buy your own automated blood pressure cuff online and take it as often as you like once you understand what the values mean. Read on for this information.

A standard blood pressure measurement is 120/80 mmHg (millimetres of mercury) and is always displayed as a fraction. The top number (120) refers to your systolic pressure – which basically means the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts, and the bottom number (80) refers to your diastolic pressure, which means the pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting and filling up between beats. So, if you think of the diastolic pressure as high it means that while your heart is supposed to be relaxing and filling up, it’s under pressure – which is bad. Check out the image below which illustrates this.

So, do you want the good news or the bad news first?

The Bad News (good choice):
This high pressure can lead to multiple complications in the arteries and the body’s organs. It damages the walls of the arteries, making them less elastic and narrowing their lumen (diameter) which affects the blood flow leading to blockages, or leads to the formation of aneurysms (little bulges that can form in a weakened wall of an artery, which can go unnoticed but if ruptured can lead to life-threatening internal bleeding). If you remember that arteries are everywhere in your body and supply all of the body’s organs, you can imagine that reduced blood flow to those organs can lead to complications, in particular the arteries to the heart and brain leading to heart attack and stroke respectively.

The Good News:
But as usual with my pieces, it is not all doom and gloom. Keeping an eye on your blood pressure with regular GP or nurse visits can help to catch high blood pressure early and begin management before any of these complications arise. Management is generally lifestyle adjustments in terms of diet (lots of fruit and veg and reducing fat intake), weight loss, quitting smoking and exercise. Sometimes medications are required to lower blood pressure if the high blood pressure is as a result of another condition, or if lifestyle changes are ineffective.

Risk Factors:

  • White coat syndrome: Yes, this is a thing. People get nervous and anxious when they are at the doctors. It is completely normal and nothing to be embarrassed about. This is why a diagnosis of Hypertension can not be made until a minimum of two high blood pressure measurements are taken at two separate occasions.
  • Stress.
  • Diets that are high in fats.
  • Physical inactivity (studies show that even just walking for 30mins to an hour every day massively reduces your likelihood of having high blood pressure).
  • Obesity.
  • Too much alcohol consumption.
  • Smoking.
  • Diabetes.
  • Secondary to other conditions or as a side-effect of certain medications.
  • Some link genetics and family history to Hypertension.

Measurements: 

  • Normal: 120 / 80 mmHg.
  • Mild Hypertension: 121-139 / 80-99 mmHg.
  • Moderate Hypertension: 140-159 / 100-110 mmHg.
  • Severe Hypertension:  >160 / >110 mmHg.

If you require more information, please visit these sites:
The British Heart Foundation: https://www.bhf.org.uk/
The National Health Service (NHS): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/.
References:
[1]. https://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-failure/symptoms/whats-difference-between-diastolic-systolic-heart-failure/

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