Blood pressure arises as a result of the pumping action of the heart and is recorded as two figures; the systolic blood pressure (higher value) over the diastolic blood pressure (lower value). A reading of 120/80 is considered as normal and is expressed as “120 over 80mm Hg.” However, the narrowing or blockage of blood vessels causes the heart to pump harder and as a result a greater force is exerted causing the blood pressure to rise. If the blood pressure remains above the normal readings, then the eventual diagnosis is HBP (High Blood Pressure). If left untreated, HBP results in damaged kidneys, heart valves, eyes, and other blood vessels (Westman, 2009). Some of the long terms effects include:
Blood vessels – increased pressure leads to increased accumulation of fat deposits within the blood vessels causing them to thicken and harden. This consequently affects the flow of blood and may eventually result in serious conditions like arteriosclerosis.
Kidneys – high blood pressure may damage the kidneys’ blood vessels thus impairing normal functioning, which leads to ultimate failure.
Heart – high blood pressure causes the heart to overwork leading to an enlarged and weak heart. This may then be the precedence for a heart attack.
Brain – clogged blood vessels in the brain may rupture and lead to a stroke.
Eyes – damage to the tiny blood vessels may lead blurred vision or even blindness.
High blood pressure usually occurs in stages and as a result the signs and symptoms may vary depending on the stage. On the lower end the affected persons may not even exhibit any signs but as the condition becomes advanced they might experience head aches, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea and blurred vision (American Heart Association, 2007). The severity of these symptoms will also depend on how advanced the condition is.
Risk factors for high blood pressure
Common risk factors that are associated with high blood pressure include:
Obesity- overweight individuals have a high propensity of making the heart to strain thus increasing the risk for HBP.
Age- blood pressure tends to increase as one grows older. High blood pressure is also likely to affect men earlier than women in the same age bracket usually between 45-50 years
Race- For instance, African Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure and even earlier in life than other races
Smoking – smoking decreases the oxygen capacity of the lungs causing the heart to work harder and in the process, the blood pressure increases (Westman, 2009).
Family history – one is more likely to develop high blood pressure if the condition has previously affected older generations
Alcohol - over consumption of alcohol leads to low blood pressure causing the heart to work harder and this may lead to high blood pressure
However, some of the risk factors that lead to high blood pressure can actually be avoided by leading a healthy life (American Heart Association, 2007). Maintaining a healthy body weight aids in reducing blood pressure. This can be achieved by increased physical activity and a healthy diet that comprises of plenty of fruits, low fat and calorie foods, greens, and whole grains. A reduction in salt intake and reducing alcohol consumption will also lead to lower blood pressures. Long term drug abuse can also result to HBP; hence drugs should be used according to the doctor’s instructions or be avoided. Assuming full responsibility of one’s health is the key to a healthy and disease free life (Health Connections, 2009).
American Heart Association/American Stroke Association National Centre (2007), What is High Blood Pressure? http://www.americanheart.org
Health Connections, Dairy Council of California (2009) Managing Hypertension through a Healthy Lifestyle Issue 6, Vol 4, http://www.dairycouncilofca.org
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Diseases and Conditions Index. High Blood Pressure. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/pubs/pub_gen.htm#hbp Dec 2008
Westman E (2009), Does smokeless tobacco cause hypertension? South MedJ; 88 : 716-20,