Body: Managing High Blood Pressure

   The medical name for high blood pressure is hypertension which occurs as a result of an increased workload on the heart which increases the force of blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels. For the majority of people, the cause of high blood pressure (essential hypertension) is unknown. In a minority of cases, high blood pressure is a symptom of underlying heart, or kidney disease, this is known as ?secondary hypertension. Prolonged high blood pressure can cause damage to the heart and blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.

Symptoms of high blood pressure

Common symptoms of high blood pressure are headaches, dizziness and blurred vision; however, many people do not experience anything. Those with undetected hypertension are placed at greater risk as they may not realise that they have the condition until they are seriously affected: particularly when combined with factors such as smoking, obesity and diabetes as it multiplies the risk of heart attacks.

Scarring and hardening of arteries, often result from long term high blood pressure, cause them to become narrow. Narrowed arteries reduce the blood flow around the body, affect the functioning of the body's organs as well as increase the risk of blood clots. It is when these blood clots affect the blood supply that the risk to major organs such as the brain, heart, lungs and kidneys can occur.

Detecting high blood pressure

High blood pressure can only be diagnosed from a blood pressure check with a doctor or another qualified health professional. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) by the following two measurements: Systolic pressure- this describes the force of blood to contract the heart (beat) in order to pump it around the body. This higher measurement records blood pressure at or above 140mmHg Diastolic pressure- describes a relaxed / resting heart as it fills with blood to prepare it for the next contraction (heart beat). This lower measurement records blood pressure at or above 90mm Hg.

Because the heart is constantly active, it is important that diagnosis is not made on a single reading as it can be raised in many of us on occasion. It is important to make a diagnosis of hypertension based upon at least three high recordings.

When diagnosing hypertension, it is important to consider testing for any underlying causes, particularly where the blood pressure is very high or the person is very young.

Treating high blood pressure

Although there is no identified cure for essential hypertension, many people can experience a return to normal blood pressure, if they follow a healthy lifestyle. Actively treating the condition with medication may not be available to people affected by mild hypertension (above 140/90 mmHg and below 160/100). Drug treatment is used when the condition cannot be managed with lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle Changes and Prevention

The British Hypertension Society recommends the following lifestyle advice:
  1. Weight reduction if overweight and maintaining a healthy weight
  2. Regular aerobic exercise such as walking to improve the blood flow, reduce heart rate and blood pressure
  3. Reducing sugar and salt in the diet
  4. Diet rich in fruits and vegetables, low in fat or fat-free dairy products
  5. Increasing omega 3 fatty acids can lower hypertension
  6. Omitting smoking and alcohol from diet (limiting alcohol intake to less than 2 standard drinks per day, can reduce systolic blood pressure by between 2-4mmHg)
  7. Reduce stress through relaxation techniques
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