Hypertension Day: Symptoms, risk factors, prevention and treatment

Observed annually on the third Friday of May, the World Hypertension Day falls on May 17 this year. It aims to create awareness about high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. This condition is a global health concern often called the “silent killer” as it typically progresses without any noticeable symptoms until it causes serious complications. Many of us remain unaware of our risk for hypertension until it’s too late, resulting in serious conditions like heart attacks, strokes and other health problems.

World Hypertension Day serves to shed light on the dangers of this disease, if left untreated, and the consequences of neglecting our health. It also aims to educate the public on steps we can take to achieve better cardiovascular health. On this day, healthcare organisations, advocacy groups, and government organisations join to emphasise on the importance of prevention over cure. Together, they collaborate with the public to address hypertension and its associated challenges.

What is hypertension?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition that affects the arteries throughout your body. When you have hypertension, the force of blood pushing against your artery walls is consistently too high. This puts extra strain on your heart, forcing it to work harder to pump blood. This exertion can lead to serious health consequences, including heart attacks, strokes, dementia, kidney problems, aneurysms, eye problems, and many more. Hypertension is typically diagnosed when your blood pressure reading is consistently above 130/80 mm of mercury (Hg).

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association categorised blood pressure into four general ranges, as reported by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Normal blood pressure: Lower than 120/80 mm Hg

  • Elevated blood pressure: 120-129/80 mm Hg

  • Stage 1 hypertension: 130-139/80-89 mm Hg

  • Stage 2 hypertension: 140/90 mm Hg or higher

Blood pressure readings exceeding 180/120 mm Hg are considered a hypertensive crisis. If someone experiences these numbers, they need to seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Symptoms

The most important thing to know about high blood pressure is that it often has no noticeable symptoms. In fact, many people can have high blood pressure for years without experiencing any symptoms. This is why it’s crucial to get regular blood pressure checks. Many health experts suggests that while uncommon, some people with high blood pressure may experience symptoms such as:

  • Headaches

  • Shortness of breath

  • Blurry vision

It’s important to remember that these symptoms are not specific to high blood pressure and can have other causes. Additionally, they often don’t appear until the condition has reached a severe stage. Therefore, relying on symptoms alone to detect high blood pressure is unreliable.

Blood pressure is influenced by two main factors as stated by the Mayo Clinic: The amount of blood your heart pumps and the resistance to blood flow within your arteries. The harder your heart works to pump blood against narrow arteries, the higher your blood pressure becomes. As the clinic stated in its report, there are two main categories of hypertension: Primary and secondary.

Risk factors of primary hypertension: It is the most common type and the cause is not exactly clear as it tends to develop gradually over the years as a result of many inherited and environmental factors interacting in various complex ways within the human body.

  • Family history: Having a family history of high blood pressure increases your risk.

  • Age: As you age, your arteries naturally become stiffer, which can increase blood pressure.

  • Unhealthy diet: This includes diets high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars.

  • Obesity: Excess weight puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels.

  • Tobacco use: Smoking and tobacco use damage blood vessels and contribute to high blood pressure.

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Physical inactivity

  • Stress

Risk factors of secondary hypertension:

This type has a specific cause, such as an underlying medical condition.

  • Certain medications: Some cough and cold remedies, pain relievers, and birth control pills can elevate blood pressure.

  • Kidney disease

  • Certain endocrine disorders

  • A significant narrowing of the aorta or a kidney artery

Prevention/Treatment

Hypertension can be effectively managed through a combination of lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication. As early detection is crucial for successful management, it’s an important part of general health care to have your blood pressure checked regularly, starting at age 18. Healthy lifestyle choices play a crucial role in preventing and managing high blood pressure including:

  • Healthy Eating: Focus on a balanced diet low in salt (sodium).
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight through Regular Exercise
  • Limit Alcohol Consumption
  • Manage Stress: Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as relaxation techniques or meditation.
  • Adequate Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

In some cases, medication may be necessary to control high blood pressure. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment based on your individual needs.

World Hypertension Day is observed in order to raise the awareness level of the public and promote hypertension prevention, detection and control. The message of ‘prevention is better than cure’ is very significant when considering this disease. Encouraging lifestyle modifications along with regular checkups plays a major role in reducing your chances of getting this disease. By understanding the risks and taking steps towards prevention and management, you can take control of your heart health and reduce your risk of serious health complications.