Hypertension: Everything You Need To Know

Hypertension is a leading cause of premature death globally. Statistics reveal that of the 1.3 billion adults who have hypertension in the world, two-third of them live in low- and middle-income countries, such as Nigeria. It is equally sad and frightening to know that 46% of adults with this condition are unaware that they have it.

Hypertension is a common condition in which the force of blood on the walls of the arteries is high. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart to supply body tissues with oxygen and nutrients. In the heart, two chambers, called ventricles, contract with each heart beat to push blood to the lungs and the rest of the body through the arteries.

To fully understand what hypertension is all about, let’s briefly discuss the factors that affect blood pressure.

Factors affecting blood pressure

As blood flows through the arteries, three main factors affect the pressure on their walls.

1. Cardiac Output

This is the amount of blood the ventricles push out of the heart every minute. The blood pressure rises as cardiac output increases.

2. Blood volume

This is the total amount of blood in the body. Blood pressure also goes up as blood volume increases.

3. Resistance

This represents anything working against the blood flow through the arteries. Several factors contribute to resistance.

One of them is the flexibility of the arterial wall. Healthy arteries expand to help reduce blood pressure on the wall. Another resistance factor is the diameter of the arteries. The body is normally able to increase the diameter of arteries to lower blood pressure or reduce the diameter to raise the pressure. A third resistance factor is blood thickness or viscosity. In the blood, more particles such as protein and fat, increase blood viscosity. If the blood is thicker, blood pressure goes up as the heart works harder to push blood through the arteries.

How is blood pressure monitored?

Blood pressure is measured with the aid of a sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure cuff.

Measuring blood pressure with the sphygmomanometer

When the heart beats, the pressure on the arterial wall is called systolic pressure. When the heart relaxes between beats, pressure on the artery wall is called diastolic pressure. While you blood pressure may change throughout the day, it should normally be less than 120mmHg for systolic pressure and less than 80mmHg for diastolic pressure. If your systolic pressure frequently stays above 130mmHg systolic or 80mmHg diastolic, you have hypertension.

Source: Pfizer

Factors that increase the risk of hypertension

Some of them include:

  • Old age
  • Genetics
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Kidney disease
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • High-salt diet
  • Excessive alcohol intake

What are the complications of hypertension?

Overtime, hypertension damages the walls of the arteries. When the arterial wall becomes weak, it may form an enlargement called an aneurysm. This aneurysm may burst and cause bleeding into surrounding tissues. Small tears in the walls of the artery may attract certain substances in the blood such as cholesterol, to form a buildup called a plaque. Blood flow through the artery decreases as the plaque enlarges. Blood cells can stick to the plaque and form solid clumps called clots, further reducing or completely blocking blood flow through the arteries.

Human heart with blocked arteries

Damage to the arteries raises blood pressure even more by making the heart to beat faster and more forcefully. Artery damage and reduced blood flow lead to life-threatening conditions such as:

  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye problems

How is hypertension treated?

Treatment for hypertension includes lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating. It is also recommended that you reduce your intake of salt and highly processed foods. Sodium, which is present in salt causes your body to retain water which increases your blood volume and subsequently your blood pressure. Other lifestyle changes that can reduce blood pressure include avoiding excessive alcohol intake, getting regular exercise, losing weight if overweight and quitting smoking.

Your doctor may also recommend medications that act on the kidneys, blood vessels, or heart to help reduce blood pressure. Some of these medications include:

  • Diuretics: They are commonly called water pills. They cause the kidneys to remove more salt and water from the body via urine. This reduces blood volume and blood pressure.
  • Beta-blockers: They reduce the work rate of the heart by decreasing both the heart rate and the strength of the heart’s contractions.
  • Several other types of drug act directly or indirectly by relaxing blood vessels which increases their diameter. These drugs include ACE inhibitors, Angiotensin II receptor blockers, calcium channel blockers, and direct acting vasodilators.

A word from HealthFacts to you

As the world marks World Hypertension Day today, we are reminding you that essential hypertension has no cure and has numerous life-threatening complications. It is therefore important to ensure a healthy lifestyle and a religious use of your medications.

Interestingly, we shall be discussing obesity, a health condition closely associated with hypertension in our next HF-Live Event on Friday, 19th May, 2023. Save the date and inform your family and friends.

Till next time, stay informed and stay healthy.