In the Philippines, if one says they have “high blood,” this is understood as having high blood pressure or hypertension. People with hypertension are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular complications, like heart attacks, stroke and kidney failure. Complications of hypertension account for almost 10 million deaths every year.
Blood pressure refers to the pressure of blood within the arteries, which are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to other organs and parts of the body. An individual’s blood pressure is defined by two measurements: Systolic pressure (the “top” number) is the pressure in the arteries produced when the heart contracts (at the time of a heart beat), while diastolic pressure (the “bottom” number) refers to the pressure in the arteries during relaxation of the heart between heartbeats. Blood pressure is reported as the systolic pressure over diastolic pressure (for example, 120/70 or “120 over 70”).
A normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure less than 120 over a diastolic pressure less than 80. Blood pressure is said to be elevated when it is at 120 to 129 over less than 80. It is called hypertension when systolic blood pressure is 130 or more and diastolic pressure is over 80.
Hypertension is a lot more common than you probably realize. In the Philippines, about one of three adults have hypertension. Everyone is at risk of developing hypertension — primary hypertension, specifically — as we get older, and there is no clear cause. Some people may develop secondary hypertension due to existing, underlying medical conditions like thyroid or kidney disease or even sleep apnea. It can also be a side effect of certain medications.
Your risk for developing hypertension is higher if you:
• Are overweight or obese
• Have a family history of hypertension
• Consume a lot of salt in your diet
• Drink a lot of alcohol
• Do not get a lot of physical activity
• Have high cholesterol levels
Hypertension is a considerable public health threat. It has long been called the “silent killer” and for good reason. In most cases, there are no obvious symptoms to indicate that something is wrong. As hypertension rarely causes symptoms in the early stages, many people go undiagnosed.
Hypertension is often identified through routine screening. Experts recommend that people 40 years and older without a history of hypertension have their blood pressure checked once a year. Screening should be more frequent in people with risk factors or who have had elevated blood pressure in the past. For younger people without risk factors, screening every few years is a reasonable approach.
If your blood pressure is found to be elevated or high at a clinic visit, you may be asked to confirm the results by checking your blood pressure yourself at home. A person’s blood pressure can temporarily increase when it is taken by a doctor or other healthcare professional. This is called “white coat hypertension.” Your health care provider will use the readings from your in-office blood pressure check and your at-home results to determine whether or not you have true hypertension.
Fortunately, hypertension can be controlled and even prevented. Doing so is far less costly, and far safer for patients than having to deal with the complications when hypertension is missed or goes untreated.
Treatment of hypertension usually begins with lifestyle changes. Recommended changes often include:
•Losing weight if you are overweight or obese
•Reducing the amount of salt in your diet
• Not drinking too much alcohol
• Stopping smoking
• Exercising at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week
Medication to lower blood pressure may be recommended if your blood pressure is consistently high, usually at or above 140/90. Treatment is recommended even at a lower blood pressure for some older people and for those with atherosclerosis (fatty deposits lining the arteries, as in coronary heart disease, stroke or peripheral artery disease), diabetes or chronic kidney disease complicated by protein in the urine.
Both “healthy” and “unhealthy” individuals can have high blood pressure. So regardless of your current health, specific regimen or potential risk factors, you should take the threat of hypertension seriously. Consult your doctor if you feel that you could be at risk or that you may already have hypertension.