Hypertension, also commonly known as high blood pressure, is a chronic medical condition. It is characterized by consistently increased level of blood pressure in the arteries.
To understand why high blood pressure is harmful for your health, one has to understand how your heart works. When your heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries. Through these arteries blood reaches your entire body. The force with which the blood is pushed against the wall of the blood vessels is the measure of blood pressure. When the blood pressure increases, the heart has to work harder to pump the blood, thus incurring damage to the heart.
Hypertension can cause damage to other vital organs and can lead to kidney failure, stroke or heart failure. Studies reveal that about 70 million adults and around 2 million teens in the United States suffer from hypertension.
Normal Blood Pressure levels
The normal blood pressure range for a healthy adult is 120/80. 120 is the systolic measurement, and 80 stands for diastolic, the minimum pressure. These measures are the maximum and the minimum healthy pressure levels in an individual respectively. A pressure measure of 139/89 is referred to as prehypertension. It means that the person is on the verge of hypertension. If the measure is above 140/90, it signifies that the person is suffering from hypertension.
Types of Hypertension
Hypertension can be typically divided into two broad categories -
essential hypertension and secondary hypertension. Essential hypertension is when the cause of high blood pressure is not known. 95% of the hypertension cases fall in this category. Secondary hypertension is when the direct cause is known such as some kidney disease, tumors, etc.
What is the cause hypertension?
One cannot single out the exact cause of hypertension. However, there are certain factors that are associated with the increasing incidences of this condition. These factors are as follows:
- Smoking habits: People who smoke everyday are at a greater risk of developing hypertension.
- Obesity: People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have hypertension.
- Diabetes: People suffering from high levels of blood sugar may also have hypertension.
- Lack of physical exercise: People who lead a sedentary lifestyle risk being affected.
Among other major causes are:
- High alcohol consumption
- High salt intake
- Calcium deficiency
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Kidney problems
- Use of birth control pills
- Adrenal diseases
Symptoms of Hypertension
Many times people suffering from hypertension do not recognize its symptoms. So out of ignorance, they don’t receive any treatment. In the eventuality of severely risen blood pressure, the following symptoms can be experienced.
- Irregular heartbeat and breathing issues.
- Severe headaches
- Blurry Vision
- Chest pains
- Blood in urine
In case you experience any of these signs, get your pressure checked regularly. Since the chances of hypertension increase with age, a person after the age of 40 must regularly get his or her pressure checked to rule out any abnormality.
How Hypertension is diagnosed
Blood pressure is measured with an instrument called a sphygmanometer. It consists of an arm cuff, dial, pump and a valve. If the pressure level measured with this instrument exceeds the normal pressure range and is above 140/90, the person is considered suffering from hypertension.
Due to stress and hectic lifestyle, the blood pressure of some individuals may rise. For a confirmed diagnosis, it is imperative that you tell your doctor your medical history or about any diseases running in your family. If you suffer from high cholesterol, diabetes or smoke and drink regularly, alert your doctor. Your doctor might want you to take tests like electrocardiograms (EKG) and echocardiograms in order to evaluate the electrical activity and physical structure of your heart.
How can hypertension be treated?
In order to treat hypertension effectively, a combination of medicines and lifestyle changes is necessary.
For treating hypertension with medicines, generally these are prescribed: ACE inhibitors, ARB drugs, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, alpha-blockers, diuretics, etc. Ever after your blood pressure comes under control, it is advisable to get your pressure checked at regular intervals to rule out any relapse.
Lifestyle changes that one needs to incorporate include reducing weight, eating a balanced and healthy diet, minimizing the intake of sodium, ditching cigarettes and alcohol and leading an active lifestyle. Get regular exercise including aerobic workouts, light weight training, yoga, etc.
Foods to include in your diet to fight hypertension:
Following are foods that help in reducing hypertension. They should be included in your diet
Nitrate Rich Foods: Foods rich in nitrates are said to be very helpful in controlling blood pressure levels. High levels of nitrates are found in beetroot. Research reveals that drinking of a cup of beet root juice everyday can significantly reduce blood pressure in people suffering from hypertension. Other foods that are high in nitrates are: fennel, cabbage, radishes, lettuce and carrots.
Bananas: This fruit is loaded with potassium that is known to reduce high blood pressure. Potassium helps fight hypertension by offsetting the harmful effects of sodium.It is a natural diuretic and will help in excreting sodium with water via urine.
Avocado: It is yet another powerhouse of potassium and must form a part of your diet to fight hypertension.
Yogurt: A daily intake of 1000-1500 mg of calcium is needed to keep hypertension at bay. Low fat yogurt is rich in calcium, and its daily intake is said to reduce the chance of hypertension.
Foods to avoid for reducing hypertension:
The first thing you need to avoid for reducing hypertension is ‘Salt’.
You must drastically reduce the intake of salt.For this you will have to avoid all foods that are high in sodium such as pickles, fast foods, French fries, etc.
Among other foods that should be avoided are:
- Canned food products
- Frozen desserts
- Whole dairy products
- Red meat
How can hypertension be prevented?
As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’. So to reduce your chances of hypertension be vigilant about the food you consume, and lead an active lifestyle. By making appropriate changes to one's lifestyle, the risk of hypertension can be significantly reduced.
If you are overweight, lose those extra pounds. If you consume to much salt, reduce it. If your lifestyle is fast and hectic, take your time to unwind and relax. Quitting smoking and ditching alcohol can also go a long way in keeping hypertension at bay.
It is also advisable to get thorough regular checkups. This will help you recognize any abnormality in pressure levels at appropriate times. The sooner hypertension is diagnosed and treated; the more are the chances of effective treatment. Timely treatment is also instrumental in preventing any damage to the other vital organs caused by hypertension.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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