Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels and the magnitude of this force depends on the cardiac output and the resistance of the blood vessels. Hypertension or high blood pressure is defined as having blood pressure higher than 140 over 90 mmHg with a consensus across medical guidelines.
When we measure our blood pressure, its reading always has two numbers. The top number is systolic pressure, which is when the heart is contracting and diastolic pressure is when the heart is relaxing. The pressures are categorised as follows:
- Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
- Prehypertension: 120-139 over 80-89
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159 over 90-99
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above over 100 and above
- High blood pressure in people over age 60: 150 and above over 90 and above
Symptoms of high blood pressure:
- Severe headaches
- Severe anxiety
- Shortness of breath
Causes of high blood pressure: Blood pressure is a non-communicable disease. It is one of the outcomes of bad or poor lifestyle. There are many more reasons for getting high blood pressure:
- High intake of salt
- Excessive consumption of processed foods
- Lack of physical activity
- Alcohol consumption
- Genetics or heredity
- Old age
- Thyroid disorders
Complications: When blood pressure stays high over time, it can damage the body and cause complications. Some common complications and their signs and symptoms include:
- Chronic kidney disease: When blood vessels narrow in the kidneys, possibly causing kidney failure.
- Eye damage: When blood vessels in the eyes burst or bleed. Signs and symptoms include vision changes or even blindness.
- Cognitive changes: Research shows that over time, higher blood pressure numbers can lead to cognitive changes. Signs and symptoms include memory loss, difficulty finding words and losing focus during conversations.
- Aneurysms: When an abnormal bulge forms in the wall of an artery. Aneurysms develop and grow for years without causing signs or symptoms until they rupture, or grow large enough to press on nearby body parts or block blood flow. The signs and symptoms that develop depend on the location of the aneurysm.
- Heart attack: When the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of the heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked and the heart doesn’t get oxygen. The most common warning symptoms of a heart attack are chest pain or discomfort, upper body discomfort and shortness of breath.
- Peripheral artery disease: When plaque builds up in the leg arteries and affects blood flow in the legs. When people have symptoms, the most common are pain, cramping, numbness, aching or heaviness in the legs, feet and buttocks after walking or climbing stairs.
- Heart failure: When the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Common signs and symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath or trouble breathing, feeling tired and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen and veins in the neck.
- Stroke: When the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the brain is blocked. The symptoms of a stroke include a sudden onset of weakness, paralysis or numbness of the face, arms or legs, trouble speaking or understanding speech and trouble seeing.
Prevention: To prevent high blood pressure, everyone should be encouraged to make lifestyle modifications, such as eating a healthier diet, quitting smoking and getting more exercise. Treatment with medication is recommended to lower blood pressure to less than 140/90 in people younger than age 60 and less than 150/90 in people older than age 60. Treating high blood pressure involves lifestyle changes and possibly drug therapy.
Lifestyle changes to treat high blood pressure: A critical step in preventing and treating high blood pressure is the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. You can lower your blood pressure with the following lifestyle changes:
- Losing weight if you are overweight or obese
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a healthy diet, including the DASH diet (eating more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, less saturated and total fats)
- Reducing the amount of sodium in your diet to less than 1,500 milligrams a day if you have high blood pressure; healthy adults should try to limit their sodium intake to no more 2,300 milligrams a day (about 1 teaspoon of salt).
- Getting regular aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking for at least 30 minutes a day, several days a week)
- Limiting alcohol to two drinks a day for men, one drink a day for women
Nutrition Therapy: One of the steps your doctor may recommend to lower your high blood pressure is to start using the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The diet is simple:
The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts and has low quantities of fat, red meat, sweets and sugared beverages. It is also high in potassium, calcium and magnesium, as well as protein and fibre. The plan cuts back on the amount of sodium that you get from food and drink. To start with the DASH diet, we have to limit sodium intake to 2,400 mg. (approx 1 tsp salt). Once you are well adjusted with 2,400 mg. sodium then you can cut back to 1,500 mg. Try to maintain 1,500 mg. in a diet which accounts for all sodium present in food products as well as in what you cook with or add at the table.