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Hypertension: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes, Risk Factors

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Hypertension or having elevated blood pressure is a “silent killer” that significantly increases the risk of brain, heart, kidney, and other diseases. It is a major cause of premature death worldwide, and only 1 in 5 adults with hypertension have it under control. Let’s dive deeper into this pressing medical condition. 

What is hypertension? 

Arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the other parts of the body. When the heart pumps blood through these arteries, the blood puts pressure on their walls and hypertension occurs when an individual’s blood pressure is too high. The more blood the heart pumps, and the narrower the arteries, the higher an individual’s blood pressure will be. 

How to diagnose hypertension? 

The only way to detect hypertension is by having a health professional measure your blood pressure. Blood pressure readings are done in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and each reading shows two numbers. The first number (systolic) represents the pressure in the blood vessels when your heart beats while the second (diastolic) number represents the pressure in your arteries when the heart rests in between beats. 

In order to ascertain if an individual has high blood pressure, blood pressure readings should be taken on two different days. In the event that the systolic blood pressure on both days is more than 140 mmHg and/or the diastolic blood pressure more than 90 mmHg, the individual will be diagnosed with hypertension. 

Blood Pressure Category  Systolic mmHg (upper number) Diastolic mmHg (lower number)
Normal  Less than 120  And  Less than 80
Elevated  120-129  And  Less than 80 
High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 1  130-139  Or  80-89
High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 2 140 or higher  Or  90 or higher 
Hypertensive crisis (consult a doctor immediately)  Higher than 180  and/or  Higher than 120 

Source: American College of Cardiology

Symptoms of hypertension 

Hypertension is also known as a “silent killer” and it may be possible to have high blood pressure for years without showing any symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of major health conditions such as strokes and heart attacks. However, high blood pressure can be easily detected and you can work with your doctor to control it. 

Symptoms of high blood pressure include shortness of breath, headaches, or nosebleeds. However, these usually do not occur unless the high blood pressure has reached a life-threatening or severe stage. Other symptoms may include irregular heart rhythms, vision changes, and buzzing in the ears. Severe hypertension can also cause vomiting, confusion, chest pains, anxiety, muscle tremors, and fatigue

Complications of hypertension

Hypertension can cause serious damage to the heart as excessive pressure can harden arteries and decrease the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. This reduced blood flow and elevated pressure can cause: 

  • Heart failure where the heart cannot pump enough oxygenated blood to other vital body organs 
  • Chest pains or angina
  • Heart attack, where blood supply to the heart is blocked and the heart muscle cells die from a lack of oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart. 
  • An irregular heartbeat leading to a sudden death. 

Hypertension may also block arteries which supply oxygenated blood to the brain, resulting in a stroke or cause kidney damage, resulting in kidney failure. 

Causes of hypertension

High blood pressure usually occurs over time and may occur due to unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as inadequate physical activity.

Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, can also increase the risk for developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure can also happen during pregnancy.

Am I at risk? 

Certain risk factors may increase your chances of getting hypertension. However, risk factors that can be controlled include:  

Risk factors that may be harder to control include:  

  • Race or ethnic predilection  
  • Increasing age 
  • Chronic kidney disease 
  • Family history of high blood pressure 
  • Gender predilection (males) 
  • Obstructive sleep apnea 
  • Psychosocial stress 

Stay tuned for our next article to find out more about hypertension, including the different types treatment options, and prevention tips.

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