Hypertension: the silent killer

Article

17. 06. 2020

Hypertension is the specialist term for high blood pressure. It’s a silent threat and also one of the most common reasons why patients head to their GP’s office. It’s asymptomatic in its early stages and it doesn’t hurt, which means that most people don’t even realise they have high blood pressure which increases the risk of getting a stroke. If left untreated, it can cause irreparable damage to the heart, arteries, kidneys and eyesight.

The heart is a pump

The blood flow in the human body is ensured by the pumping of our heart. Blood pressure is the measure of the force exerted onto the walls of the blood vessels as blood passes through them. It is defined as two numbers, that should ideally be anywhere around 120/80mmHg and should be lower than 140/90mmHg. The first and higher number is your systolic pressure which refers to the contraction of your heart which pumps blood into your arteries. The lower number is called the diastolic pressure which coincides with relaxation of your heart muscle, and the flow of deoxygenated blood back into your heart. Hypertension is defined as having a blood pressure of 140/90mmHg or above. Patients with diabetes will start hypertension treatment with a blood pressure of 130/90mmHg.

Throughout the day, our blood pressure fluctuates naturally. This may be due to fatigue, water intake, stress, anxiety and mental exhaustion. Changes in weather as well as the so-called white coat syndrome can be common culprits as well.

Risk factors and symptoms

The risk of developing hypertension increases with age and it is estimated that over two million Czechs are suffering from it, a large percentage of whom have essential hypertension- otherwise known as high blood pressure with an unknown cause. Obesity, smoking, unhealthy lifestyle, high intake of sodium and alcohol are all risk factors for developing hypertension. Treating secondary hypertension lies in addressing the cause of the high blood pressure, which is commonly associated with chronic kidney disease or an issue of the endocrine system (adrenal or thyroid glands)

In its early stages, hypertension has very few noticeable symptoms. As it progresses, the patient may experience headaches, chest pain or pressure and ringing in the ears. It may also be accompanied by oedema of the limbs and sleep disorders that cause fatigue or malaise. Untreated hypertension presents a whole number of health complications- erectile dysfunction, hypertensive retinopathy and even heart failure. High levels of blood pressure and cholesterol in the blood cause hardening of the arteries. The arteries become clogged with plaque which can lead to blood clots., which can break off and travel to the heart and brain, making atherosclerosis  the most common cause of stroke or myocardial infarction.

How is it treated?

First line treatment for hypertension is anti-hypertensives, i.e. substances that lower blood pressure. This group of drugs includes ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, sartans, diuretics and others. The doctor will choose the most suitable antihypertensive depending on the patient’s health condition. A combination of the above-mentioned medications is usually used to achieve optimal results.  

Finding the right combination of treatments is very dependent on the individual and takes time and patience. At home, you can measure your blood pressure using a digital monitor cuff and note down how your pressure fluctuates throughout the day. The results of this can be used to increase the effectiveness of your treatment.

Tips for maintaining good blood pressure levels

  • Excess weight puts a strain on the heart and increase blood pressure. Regular physical activity can reduce excess weight.
  • Give up cigarettes. Nicotine and other substances present in cigarettes (e.g. carbon monoxide) increase blood pressure by up to 10mmHg. Smoking also has a negative on the condition of blood vessels causing them to narrow, as well as reducing haemoglobins ability to transport oxygen.
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption.
  • Include foods high in calcium and magnesium, lean meats, semi and low-fat dairy products. Unsalted nuts are also considered a healthy snack.
  • Watch out for your sodium intake. The daily recommended dose is 5 g. Replace the salt added to foods with herbs and spices. Read the labels of store-bought foods- try to limit your consumption of processed foods, cold cuts, instant soups, salty snacks and more. Avoid eating out at fast food restaurants.
  • A combination of enough rest and breathing exercises can help alleviate your stress levels. Yoga and targeted meditation are good tools for calming your psyche.
  • The heart and artery are supported by foods such as garlic, aromatic herbs like thyme and basil, blueberries, bananas, sea fish and beets.
  • Pain killers such as ibuprofen and ibalgin, when used as a long-term medication, may help increase blood pressure.

When was your last preventive health-check? Book an appointment with your GP!

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