Hypertension (or high blood pressure) occurs when the pressure of blood against the walls of the arteries remains higher over a longer time. Normally, the blood pressure should be less than 120/80 (systolic blood pressure/diastolic blood pressure). When your blood pressure consistently stays higher than 140/90 over a longer time, it can cause the heart to pump harder, leading to heart failure, or heart attack among many other health problems.
About 30% of Indians suffer from hypertension which is the most common risk factor for cardiovascular deaths. In India, nearly 45% of deaths in people aged from 40 years - 69 years are attributed to cardiovascular diseases.
Hypertension and Risk of Heart Diseases
High blood pressure, over time, can affect your heart by causing:
- Coronary Artery Disease. High blood pressure can cause the coronary arteries to narrow or stiffen (or less elastic) disrupting the flow of blood to your heart causing coronary artery disease. When the flow of the blood to your heart is interrupted you can have symptoms of heart attack or myocardial infarction such as chest pain (angina), discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, cold sweat, pain or discomfort in arms, shoulder, jaw, neck, or back, etc.
- Heart Failure. High blood pressure can strain your heart muscles causing the heart to pump insufficient blood to the rest of the body. Breathlessness, fatigue, swelling in the stomach area, ankles, feet, or legs, etc., are some common signs and symptoms of heart failure.
- Left Ventricular Hypertrophy or Enlarged Left Heart. High blood pressure can cause your heart to pump harder causing the left ventricle of your heart to enlarge and thicken. When the left ventricle or the left part of the heart enlarges, more pressure is required by the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body leading to heart failure, heart attack, and sudden cardiac death. Shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, fatigue, etc., are some symptoms of left ventricular hypertrophy.
Causes of Hypertension
Hypertension develops over time and is caused by:
- Primary Hypertension. Sometimes high blood pressure may not have any identifiable cause. This is referred to as primary (essential) hypertension and may develop gradually over years.
- Secondary Hypertension. High blood pressure can be a result of underlying health conditions such as sleep apnoea, diabetes, overweight or obesity, pregnancy, etc., and may develop in a short duration.
Risk Factors of Hypertension
- Ageing can increase the risk of hypertension.
- Family history. If your parents or siblings have high blood pressure, then you are most likely to get hypertension.
- Being overweight or obese increases the force with which blood flows through the blood vessels and arteries.
- A sedentary lifestyle increases the chances of putting on unhealthy weight and increases the risk of hypertension
- Smoking or chewing tobacco elevates blood pressure temporarily and also can damage the lining of the artery walls leading to narrowing of the artery thereby increasing your risk of heart disease.
- High salt (sodium) in the diet can lead to fluid retention and elevate blood pressure.
- Low potassium in the diet can cause sodium build-up in the body.
- Alcohol abuse can increase blood pressure and can damage your heart.
- Stress can induce high blood pressure and eating even if you are not hungry leading to unhealthy weight gain.
Signs and Symptoms
Hypertension is considered a ‘silent killer’ as it has no warning signs or symptoms. It can quietly damage your heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, etc., for years before any symptoms show up. The only way to know whether you have hypertension is to get your blood pressure measured regularly.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure consistently puts excessive pressure on your artery walls and can lead to complications such as heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, dementia, narrowed or weakened blood vessels in your eyes, kidneys, etc.
The good news is that hypertension can be effectively managed and the risk of serious heart problems can be lowered by:
Heart-healthy lifestyle changes such as adopting the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and dairy (low-fat) foods can be helpful in the management of high blood pressure.
- Include fruits and vegetables rich in potassium, which can help in controlling high blood pressure.
- Avoid saturated fat and trans fat.
- Take low sodium or low salt diet. Avoid processed foods as they are usually rich in salt.
- Quit smoking
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Manage stress. Practice, yoga, deep breathing, and listening to relaxation music.
- Regular intake of medications that help manage high blood pressure as prescribed by your doctor.
Hypertension is an important marker of heart disease. Nearly 29.8% of Indians are hypertensive, of which, only 25% - 48% seek treatment mainly due to lack of awareness, poor medical care and follow-up. The promotion of a healthy lifestyle, heart-healthy eating, exercise and regular intake of medication as prescribed by your doctor can contribute to the effective management of hypertension and thereby reduce the risks of heart diseases and associated complications.
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