Hypertension: The Silent Killer
Updated: Jun 21, 2022
Hypertension (HTN) is also known as high blood pressure and is a condition in which the blood vessels have consistently raised pressure. Blood vessels are responsible for carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels as it is pumped by the heart. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart must pump to overcome this pressure.
Blood pressure naturally increases and decreases throughout the day, but persistently elevated readings are associated with negative health outcomes.
Per the CDC, nearly half of all Americans have hypertension and only 24% of this population has their hypertension under control.
The World Health Organization estimated 46% of adults with hypertension are unaware that they have the condition.
According to the CDC, high blood pressure was a primary or a contributing cause of death for more than 494,873 people in the United States in 2018.
Causes of HTN
There are two main causes of hypertension: primary and secondary.
Primary hypertension is the most common type, and the direct cause remains unclear but, there are several risk factors for the development:
Advancing age- As we age our arteries stiffen and narrow which could be a contributing factor.
Family history- It is estimated that hypertension is approximately twice as common in patients who have parents with hypertension.
Race- Some ethnic groups are more predisposed to hypertension. African Americans are at greatest risk for developing hypertension.
Obesity- Increases the amount of fluid outside the cells (extracellular) which increases blood volume. This increased blood volume increases the amount of force the heart must use to overcome the excess volume which in time places more strain on your arteries. Obesity increases blood pressure in several other ways, but we will save that for another day.
High sodium intake- By having a high salt intake our body retains more water to try to restore balance in the body. This increased fluid will ultimately lead to increased blood pressure.
Excessive alcohol intake- The exact mechanism is still up for debate but, excessive alcohol use increases weight, leads to hardening of blood vessels (atherosclerosis), and influences hormones that allow blood vessels to relax and constrict.
Secondary hypertension is caused by another medical condition or the use of certain medications and can usually improve after you treat the underlying condition or stop taking the medication(s). Some causes of secondary hypertension are:
Chronic kidney disease
Obstructive sleep apnea
Endocrine Disorders such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and hyperparathyroidis.
Medications that can raise blood pressure: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents such as, ibuprofen, antidepressants, oral contraceptives, decongestants, sodium-containing antacids such as Alka-Seltzer.
Symptoms of HTN
Hypertension usually has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not know they have it. For most people, the only way they know they have elevated readings is by monitoring their blood pressure regularly.
Some people may experience vision changes, headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness. In severe cases, hypertension can cause chest pain, nausea, vomiting, and changes in mental status.
Complications associated with HTN
Hypertension can lead to a cascade of complications, including serious damage to the heart. Over time hypertension can lead to narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis) which decreases the amount of blood flow to organs. This increased blood pressure and decreased blood flow can lead to:
Over time, heart failure can result due to the excess strain placed on the heart muscle.
Do see why hypertension is referred to as “the Silent Killer”? This disease often has no symptoms and left untreated can lead to death.
Prevention of HTN
Most people with hypertension can be managed with lifestyle modifications such as:
Increasing physical activity- it is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week (about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week).
Reducing salt intake- the recommended daily intake of sodium is 3 grams. Just for reference, one teaspoon equates to about 25 grams.
Maintaining a healthy weight.
Limiting alcohol intake.
Management of HTN
For those who do not respond to lifestyle interventions alone or for those whose blood pressure needs to be treated with medication initially, there are a variety of medication options that your healthcare provider can discuss with you.
How do I know if I have hypertension?
The only way to know if you have hypertension is to measure your blood pressure at home. You can purchase a home blood pressure machine at your local pharmacy or online. Take your blood pressure each morning and write it down in a journal. This will allow you to show your provider your daily trends. Remember a normal blood pressure reading is a systolic (top number) 120mmHg or less and a diastolic (bottom number) of 80mmHg or less.
As always if you need blood pressure screening or management of you hypertension Reform ABQ is here to help. Click the link below to schedule your appointment: