Understanding High Blood Pressure | Hypertension Awareness Month
As we observe Hypertension Awareness Month, let us learn more about high blood pressure and what we can do to prevent it.
Hypertension or high blood pressure continues to be a serious health problem in many countries. In the Philippines, a study revealed that the death rate due to hypertension has increased dramatically over the last three decades — from 11% in 1990 to 21% in 2017. In addition, it was found that hypertension-related disabilities increased from 4% to 11%. It was also reported that hypertension was the fifth leading cause of death in the country in 2016.
Because these numbers are alarming, the Department of Health is urging us to be active to prevent this disease. As we celebrate Hypertension Awareness Month, let’s get to know more about this health condition and find out what we can do to prevent it.
What Is Hypertension?
When the blood pressure increases to dangerously high levels, this is called hypertension.
Our blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood flowing into our blood vessels and the amount of resistance encountered by the blood as the heart pumps. Resistance is increased in narrow arteries. This usually occurs as a result of the accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the walls of arteries. As such, your blood pressure would then be higher if your arteries are narrowed. Over time, the increased pressure can result in health problems, including heart disease.
Typically, hypertension progresses over a period of several years. There may even be cases wherein one is unaware of any signs. However, even in the absence of symptoms, hypertension can cause damage to your blood vessels and organs, especially the heart, brain, eyes, and kidneys.
What Causes Hypertension?
Primary hypertension is a form of hypertension that progresses gradually and has no known cause. This is the most common form of high blood pressure, and researchers suggest a number of factors:
- Genetics - Certain individuals are predisposed to hypertension due to their hereditary makeup. This may be due to inherited genetic defects or genetic abnormalities from your parents.
- Physical changes - If there are changes occurring in other parts of your body, this can have an effect on your overall well-being. Changes in kidney function due to aging, for example, are thought to upset the body's normal salt and fluid balance. Your blood pressure can then rise as a result of this shift.
- Environment - Poor lifestyle choices, such as a lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet, may have a long-term impact on the body. Keep in mind that weight disorders can be caused by these lifestyle decisions — and hypertension is more likely to occur if you are overweight or obese.
On the other hand, secondary hypertension develops more rapidly than primary hypertension and can be more serious. This can be caused by a variety of conditions, including congenital heart defects, kidney failure, and obstructive sleep apnea.
What Are the Symptoms?
Hypertension is typically a silent illness. Many people would not have any signs or symptoms and it can take years, if not decades, for the disease to progress to the point that symptoms are visible. That said, severe hypertension can cause headaches, breathing problems, dizziness, chest pain, and even blood in the urine. These symptoms require medical attention right away.
Keep in mind also, that not everyone with hypertension experiences all these symptoms, so simply waiting for a symptom to show could be fatal.
The easiest way to determine whether you have hypertension is to take daily blood pressure tests. If you only have an annual physical test, speak to your doctor about your hypertension risks and any additional readings you may need to keep track of regarding your blood pressure.
High Blood Pressure Prevention Tips
Whether or not you already have hypertension risk factors, we all should take action now to reduce the risk of developing the disease and its complications.
Increase the number of nutritious foods in your diet
Gradually increase the servings of nutritious food you consume. Every day, try to consume at least seven servings of fruits and vegetables. Then, for the next two weeks, plan to add one more serving every day. Aim to add one more serving after the two weeks are up. Your ultimate goal would be to eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
As much as possible, avoid eating restaurant food or prepackaged foods, which are often very high in sodium.
Change the way you think of the typical dinner plate
Build a meal plan that uses meat as a condiment instead of eating a meat dish with three sides. To put it another way, instead of having a steak with a side salad, have a larger salad with a smaller piece of steak on top.
Reduce your sugar intake
Cut back on the amount of sugar-sweetened foods you consume. This includes sugary desserts, flavored yogurts, cereals, and sodas. Take note also, you may be unknowingly eating sugar from packaged goods, so read the labels carefully.
Keep active and monitor your weight
Make sure you exercise regularly and instead of setting an arbitrary target to "lose weight," consult your doctor to determine your ideal weight.
A weekly weight loss target of one to two pounds is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means you can start by eating 500 calories less per day than you usually do. Then determine what physical activity you should begin to achieve your target. If five nights a week is too difficult to fit into your schedule, plan for one more night than you currently do. Add another night when it falls reasonably into your schedule.
For the proper medication for hypertension, make sure to consult your doctor. There will be a number of factors that your physician will have to consider in determining the best treatment option for you.