Hypertension or high blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for stroke and heart disease. It usually presents with little or no symptoms and it is known to cause about 50% of death related to the heart or vessels. This great impact on the population’s health is however preventable, and can be largely decreased by lifestyle modifications and screening.
Blood pressure is represented by two values and is measured by a blood pressure cuff. The first and highest of these values represents the systolic blood pressure which equals the pressure in the arteries while the heart is contracting. The second value reflects the diastolic pressure which is the pressure in the arteries while the heart is relaxing. Blood pressure readings will vary in a single person throughout the day depending on certain factors. For example stress, smoking, exercise or caffeine will cause the blood pressure to normally rise and should be avoided prior to taking it.
The American Heart Association defines a normal blood pressure as less than 120/80. Pre-hypertension ranges between 120/80 and 139/89, and high blood pressure is 140/90 and higher. The causes of this disease are several factors which may or may not coexist. These are mainly consumption of a diet rich in salt, genetic predisposition and increased resistance to blood flow in the vascular system.
A rare percentage of patients will experience symptoms associated with high blood pressure and it is usually discovered through screening or while seeking medical care for an unrelated complain. Symptoms may include but are not limited to headache, dizziness or blurred vision and are not specific to high blood pressure. The best modality for diagnosis remains screening every 2 years for people over 18 years old with normal blood pressure(less than 120/80) and on a yearly basis for pre-hypertensive people(ranges between 120/80 and 139/89). Moreover, each regular health care visit should include blood pressure measurement.
Although high blood pressure has many factors that cannot be changed such as age and heredity, it remains a preventable disease mainly through lifestyle modifications. The most important of these are eating a low salt diet, weight reduction, smoking cessation, decreasing alcohol intake and regular physical activity.