Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most common medical problems in the modern world, affecting at least 20% of the world’s adult population. This rises to 50% of the over 60s! It can lead to heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease if not controlled.
The blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries, generated by the pumping of the heart. The top reading, called the systolic, is the highest pressure generated by the pump, [felt as your pulse] while the lower reading, called the diastolic, is the pressure when the pump is at rest.
The blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood pumped by the heart, and the size and condition of the arteries, but is also affected by many factors including emotional and physical state, physical activity, diet, temperature, posture, and medication use. Hypertension is diagnosed if the systolic reading is over 140mm/Hg or the diastolic over 90mm/Hg, on more than one occasion. The readings are usually repeated because an isolated high reading may be due to anxiety. The exception to this would be if the pressure is already causing symptoms, or is extremely high.
Unless caused by an underlying disease, blood pressure is not cured when treated but is controlled. In other words, the blood pressure becomes normal while treatment is taken, but is likely to rise again if treatment is stopped. Blood pressure is a chronic [long term] condition and usually needs lifelong treatment, unless the patient has made lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising and stopping both smoking and excessive drinking. Blood pressure control is important because if untreated it damages the arteries and eventually causes stroke, heart attack or kidney failure. The tragedy is that it is preventable.
Hypertension has no symptoms unless it is causing damage, which is why it is known as the ‘silent killer’.
Occasionally someone may experience headache or dizziness, prompting a visit to the doctor, but frequently the first sign is that of a stroke or heart attack. This is why all health professionals encourage patients to have their blood pressure checked regularly, especially those with the risk factors mentioned above.
Importantly, 95% of people found to have hypertension do not have an identifiable cause except as below, and it is then called primary, or essential hypertension. When there is an underlying cause such as kidney heart or other diseases it is called secondary hypertension.
Primary hypertension is more common among the overweight, and excess alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, inactivity, a poor diet high in salt, trans fats and refined sugars all contribute.
It is more common in people of Black ethnic origin and is seen more in men than women.
Those with a family history of hypertension are more likely to be affected, and it becomes more common with increasing age, but may affect anyone from childhood on.
Other underlying causes include sleep apnoea, commonly associated with obesity, which can raise blood pressure and lead to chronic ill-health if not diagnosed and treated. It may be due to hormonal imbalance, including thyroid problems, and more rarely, Cushing’s disease or Phaeochromocytoma, both adrenal gland disorders.
Some prescription medicines can also cause it, including Viagra, as well as recreational drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.
In pregnancy, hypertension may occur alone, or as a feature of preeclampsia, a potentially serious complication.
SO HOW DO WE MANAGE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
If there is an underlying cause, that must be treated first, and importantly you, the patient, must take control and do your utmost to make lifestyle changes, such as reducing salt intake, alcohol and cigarettes, and increasing physical activity. Try to lose weight, most importantly by reducing the amount of sugar in your diet, – including gas cool drinks and fruit juices – and eating unrefined, natural foods with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Normally a doctor will give a patient a mild dose of a diuretic [water pill] as the initial treatment. Should this prove to be inadequate, there are several different classes of drug users such as ACE inhibitors, Angiotensin II Receptor Antagonists, β blockers, α Blockers, Calcium Channel Blockers, and combinations. Should one medicine prove unsuitable, there are plenty of others to choose from!
As you can see from above, the first step if you are found to have raised blood pressure is to examine your lifestyle, and make changes: stop smoking, reduce your salt and alcohol intake, start exercising and lose weight. Eat less sugar and refined fats and more fish, as well as plenty of natural fibre such as fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses. You can also use a salt substitute that contains potassium instead of sodium.
Omega-3 oils as found in salmon oil and flaxseed oils are anti-inflammatory and reduce the effect of raised pressure.
Other ways to help yourself include eating plenty of celery, garlic and olives, which are all known to help reduce blood pressure. Several herbs are also known to help such as fennel, black cohosh, cayenne, hawthorn, rosemary, chamomile, parsley, reishi mushrooms and turmeric.
Acupuncture can be very effective, but the treatment must be continued long term.
Homoeopathy will treat the whole person. Consult a registered practitioner.
WHEN TO WORRY?
If untreated, hypertension leads to damage in the heart and arteries, much as driving with overinflated car tyres causes excessive wear on the tyres. This damage leads to clots forming in the artery, which may become lodged in a smaller vessel and cause a stroke or a heart attack. Alternatively, an artery may burst, causing a stroke if in the brain or a major emergency if in the main artery, the aorta. Less dramatically the long term wear may lead to dementia, heart failure, and death from vascular disease.
The longer it is untreated, the more damage is done. The effectiveness of finding and treating hypertension is shown by the fact that reduction of blood pressure by 5-6 mm/Hg can decrease the risk of stroke by 40%, and of coronary heart disease by 15-20%.
So, if you haven’t had your blood pressure checked, please go to your local pharmacy or doctor. Also, please don’t ‘just stop’ treatment because you feel well. Let’s stop this silent killer in its tracks!