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The basics of hypertension

Understanding what gives rise to it goes a long way in its prevention.


MAY 2011

What is blood pressure?

The heart pumps blood into arteries, which carry blood to the different parts of the body. The systolic blood pressure (first number in a blood pressure reading) is caused by the force of blood against the arterial wall when the heart contracts. The diastolic (second number in the blood pressure reading) is the pressure between heart contractions.

Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. When blood pressures hit 140 to 159 over 90 to 99, they are considered Stage 1 hypertension. Systolic pressures of 160 or higher, or diastolic pressures of 100 or higher, are considered Stage 2 hypertension. Pre-hypertensive levels are those between the normal levels and Stage 1 hypertension.

Causes and factors

A majority of the hypertension cases are known as essential, idiopathic, or primary hypertension where the exact cause of the condition has not been clearly identified.

However, a number of factors contribute to primary hypertension, including:

• too much salt consumption
• family history of hypertension
• stress
• sedentary lifestyle
• smoking
• excessive alcohol intake
• obesity
• male gender
• older age: above 35
• African-American ethnicity.

About five percent of hypertensives have secondary hypertension, wherein a direct cause (usually another disorder) can be determined. Some of these are:

• kidney diseases, such as infection, inflammation, stone formation, or structural problems
• Endocrine disorders (hormonal imbalances). Adrenal gland tumors that secrete hormones that raise blood pressure, overly active or underactive thyroid glands, among others.
• Drugs. Steroids, migraine medicines, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or amphetamines), oral contraceptive pills, and medications that cause arteries to tighten such as allergy or cold medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.
• Liquorice
• Obstructive sleep apnea
• Anemia

Watch the signs

Almost a third of people with high blood pressure do not know they have hypertension because they feel fine. Often, their condition is brought to light only during pre-employment or routine check-ups. Therefore, it is important to get regular check-ups or at least do blood pressure monitoring, especially if hypertension runs in the family, or there are contributory factors.

Others may feel one or more of the following symptoms:

• headaches
• nape pains
• sleepiness
• confusion
• nausea or vomiting
• chest pain
• shortness of breath
• easily fatigued
• blurring of vision
• weakness or numbness

Seek medical help immediately if any of the above are felt.

To know more about hypertension, check out the May issue of Health Today, now available in the newsstands.


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The basics of hypertension
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