Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against the walls of the arteries. When it’s too high, it raises the heart’s workload and can cause serious damage to the arteries. Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
High blood pressure is sometimes called a silent killer because it may have no outward symptoms for years. In fact, one in five people with the condition do not know they have it. Internally, it can quietly damage the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain and kidneys if left untreated. It is a major risk factor for strokes and heart attacks.
Normal blood pressure readings will fall below 120/80, while higher results over time can indicate hypertension. The top number (systolic) shows the pressure when the heart beats. The lower number (diastolic) measures pressure at rest between heartbeats, when the heart refills with blood.
Occasionally, kidney or adrenal gland disease can lead to hypertension.
You have high blood pressure if readings average140/90 or higher – for either number – though you may still have no symptoms. At 180/110 and higher, you may be having a hypertensive crisis. Rest for a few minutes and take your blood pressure again.
If it is still very high, see a doctor immediately. A hypertensive crisis can lead to a stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, or loss of consciousness.
Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis can include a severe headache, anxiety, nosebleeds and feeling short of breath.
Up to the age of 45, more men have high blood pressure than women. It becomes more common for both men and women as they age, and more women have hypertension by the time they reach 65. You have a greater risk if a close family member has high blood pressure or if you are diabetic.
About 60 per cent of people with diabetes have high blood pressure.
Sodium, a major component of salt, can raise blood pressure by causing the body to retain fluid, which leads to a greater burden on the heart. Medical experts recommend eating less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. You will need to check food labels and menus carefully. Processed foods make up the majority of our sodium intake. Canned soups and lunch-meats are prime suspects.
The stress factor
Stress can make one’s blood pressure spike, but there’s no evidence that it causes high blood pressure as an ongoing condition. However, stress may affect risk factors for heart disease, so it may have an indirect connection to hypertension.
Stress may lead to other unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, alcohol use, or smoking, which can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Also, being overweight places a strain on the heart and increases your risk of high blood pressure. That is why diets to lower blood pressure are often also designed to control calories.
They typically call for cutting fatty foods and added sugars, while increasing fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and fiber. Even losing 10 pounds can make a difference.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. If you drink, limit the amount to no more than two drinks a day for men, or one a day for women.
While hypertension is more often a problem for older people, even children can have high blood pressure. ‘Normal’ blood pressure varies based on a child’s age, height, and sex, so your doctor will need to tell you if there is a concern.
Children are at greater risk if they are overweight, diabetic or have a family history of hypertension.