High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the force of blood against the walls of the arteries is consistently too high, putting strain on the cardiovascular system.
This condition typically presents no symptoms in its early stages, yet it can have serious consequences if left untreated. That is why it is important to understand high blood pressure causes and proactively address them.
Risk Factors: Identify the Factors that Increase Your Risk of Developing High Blood Pressure
For the majority of people affected by high blood pressure, the cause is not known. However, there are several risk factors that make high blood pressure more likely. These include the following;
A sedentary lifestyle, characterised by little or no physical activity, significantly increases the risk of developing high blood pressure. Regular exercise helps to keep the cardiovascular system healthy by improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, and maintaining a healthy weight. In contrast, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain, weakened blood vessels, and higher blood pressure. Incorporating aerobic activities, such as brisk walking or cycling, along with strength-training exercises, can effectively lower blood pressure and improve overall health.
Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health, including the development of high blood pressure. The toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke damage blood vessels, increase heart rate, and constrict blood vessels, causing a rise in blood pressure. Moreover, smoking reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, putting additional strain on the cardiovascular system. Quitting smoking is crucial for lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease and other related complications.
Obesity is a significant risk factor for high blood pressure. Excess body weight increases the workload on the heart and raises blood pressure. Additionally, obesity often coincides with other risk factors like poor dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle, further exacerbating the problem. Losing weight through a combination of healthy eating and regular physical activity can lead to substantial improvements in blood pressure levels, reducing the strain on the heart and lowering the risk of complications.
A diet with high salt intake and/or high alcohol consumption
Dietary factors play a critical role in blood pressure regulation. Consuming a diet high in sodium can disrupt the balance of fluids in the body, leading to increased blood volume and elevated blood pressure. Similarly, excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure and damage the heart over time. Adopting a balanced diet that is low in sodium, rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and moderating alcohol consumption can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
High blood cholesterol level
High levels of cholesterol, particularly low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, can contribute to the development of high blood pressure. Excess LDL cholesterol forms plaque in the arteries, narrowing them and restricting blood flow. This narrowing increases pressure within the blood vessels, leading to hypertension. Managing cholesterol levels through a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, and, if necessary, medication prescribed by a healthcare professional can help control blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications.
Family history of high blood pressure
A family history of high blood pressure can increase an individual’s susceptibility to developing the condition. Genetic factors can influence how the body regulates blood pressure and responds to various stimuli. If your parents or close relatives have high blood pressure, it is important to be vigilant and take proactive steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Regular blood pressure monitoring, adopting healthy habits, and seeking medical advice can help manage and prevent high blood pressure effectively.
Diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, is closely linked to high blood pressure. Both conditions share common risk factors, such as obesity and unhealthy lifestyle choices. Additionally, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, affecting their ability to regulate blood pressure. Managing diabetes through medication, blood sugar control, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and regular medical check-ups is vital for preventing and managing high blood pressure in individuals with diabetes.
Complications: Understand the Potential Health Issues Associated with High Blood Pressure
Understanding the potential health complications that can arise from high blood pressure is crucial. High blood pressure, occurs when there is excessive force exerted against the walls of your arteries as blood flows through them. This condition can be caused by various factors, including genetics, family history, excessive alcohol consumption, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, kidney problems, and certain dietary choices.
The consequences of uncontrolled high blood pressure are far-reaching and can significantly impact your overall health. One of the most concerning risks is its association with cardiovascular diseases. Increased pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood through narrowed arteries, which can lead to serious conditions such as coronary artery disease (CAD), heart failure, or stroke.
In addition, high blood pressure increases the risk of developing other health issues, including kidney disease and damage. The kidneys play a crucial role in regulating blood pressure levels, and any dysfunction in these organs can further elevate your risk.
Recognising the symptoms associated with high blood pressure is important so that appropriate measures can be taken promptly. However, it’s worth noting that hypertension is often referred to as “the silent killer” because it typically does not present noticeable symptoms until it reaches severe stages or causes complications.
Can you test for the cause of high blood pressure?
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your provider may recommend tests to check for a cause. These tests include;
Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) is a valuable diagnostic tool used to assess blood pressure levels over a 24-hour period. This non-invasive test involves wearing a portable blood pressure cuff that automatically measures blood pressure at regular intervals throughout the day and night.
ABPM provides a comprehensive profile of blood pressure fluctuations, revealing any abnormalities that may go undetected during in-office measurements. It helps healthcare professionals evaluate the effectiveness of medications, diagnose white coat hypertension (elevated blood pressure in medical settings), and determine the presence of masked hypertension (normal readings in the clinic but high blood pressure outside of it). ABPM offers a more accurate assessment of blood pressure patterns, guiding treatment decisions and improving patient care.
Several laboratory tests can provide valuable insights into the underlying causes and associated risk factors of high blood pressure:
- Urinalysis: This test examines urine samples for the presence of protein, glucose, and other substances. It helps assess kidney function and detect conditions such as kidney disease or urinary tract infections that may contribute to high blood pressure.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): A CBC measures various components of the blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Abnormalities in these blood components may indicate underlying conditions that contribute to high blood pressure, such as anaemia or infections.
- Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP): A BMP measures various electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, as well as kidney function markers like creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN). Imbalances in these parameters can affect blood pressure regulation and provide insights into the overall health of vital organs.
- Lipid Panel: A lipid panel measures cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, as well as low levels of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol), are associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
- Thyroid Function Tests: These tests measure thyroid hormone levels (T3, T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). An underactive or overactive thyroid gland can affect blood pressure regulation, and assessing thyroid function is crucial in identifying potential contributing factors to hypertension.
An electrocardiogram is a painless and non-invasive test that records the electrical activity of the heart. It helps assess heart rate, rhythm, and any abnormalities that may contribute to high blood pressure. An ECG can identify conditions such as arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms), which can influence blood pressure control and guide treatment decisions. If the voltages are high on an ECG, this can also be due to high blood pressure.
An echocardiogram is a diagnostic test that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to create detailed images of the heart’s structure and function. This test provides valuable information about the heart’s size, thickness of its walls, pumping efficiency, and the presence of any structural abnormalities. An echocardiogram helps identify conditions such as heart valve disorders, congenital heart defects, or heart muscle abnormalities that may contribute to high blood pressure or its complications.
Medication: Discover the Role of Medications in Controlling High Blood Pressure
When it comes to controlling high blood pressure, medication plays a crucial role. Medications work by targeting different aspects that cause elevated blood pressure readings. Some medications relax and widen your arteries while others reduce the amount of water and salt in your body – both essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
It’s important to note that medication should not be seen as a stand alone solution but rather part of an overall treatment plan which includes dietary changes and regular exercise. By combining these approaches with medication use under medical supervision, you will achieve optimal results.
When considering which medication is right for you, there are several options available including diuretics (water pills), beta-blockers (which slow down your heart rate), ACE inhibitors (which prevent certain chemicals from tightening your arteries), calcium channel blockers (which relax muscles within arterial walls), among others. Determining which medication suits you best depends on various factors such as your medical history, any existing health conditions you may have, and potential side effects. It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional who can guide you through the decision-making process.
It’s worth mentioning that medication alone cannot solve all problems related to high blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle is equally important in managing this condition effectively. This includes maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat foods while reducing sodium intake. Regular exercise also plays a significant role in keeping your blood pressure under control.
When should I get my blood pressure checked?
Checking your blood pressure regularly is essential for monitoring your cardiovascular health and detecting high blood pressure early. Here are some key instances when you should consider checking your blood pressure:
Routine health check-ups
During regular visits to your healthcare provider, blood pressure measurement is a standard part of the examination. It is recommended to have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years if your readings are consistently within the normal range (less than 120/80 mmHg). However, if you have a family history of high blood pressure, other risk factors, or certain medical conditions, more frequent monitoring may be necessary.
As you age, the risk of developing high blood pressure increases. Starting at the age of 18, it is advisable to have your blood pressure checked at least once every year. This becomes especially important once you reach middle age, as hypertension is more common in older adults.
Known risk factors
If you have risk factors associated with high blood pressure, such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, a poor diet, smoking, diabetes, or a family history of hypertension, regular blood pressure monitoring is crucial. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine the frequency of checks based on your specific risk profile.
If you are taking medications to control high blood pressure or other related conditions, regular monitoring is essential to ensure that your blood pressure remains within the target range. Your healthcare provider will advise you on the appropriate frequency for blood pressure checks based on your treatment plan.
If you have recently made significant lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthier diet, starting an exercise program, or quitting smoking, monitoring your blood pressure can help assess the effectiveness of these changes on your cardiovascular health.
Symptoms or concerns
If you experience symptoms that could be associated with high blood pressure, such as headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, chest pain, or shortness of breath, it is important to check your blood pressure promptly.
Additionally, if you have concerns about your blood pressure or suspect you may be at risk, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate evaluation and guidance.
Where can I go if I need a high blood pressure diagnosis?
You can receive high blood pressure diagnosis at HeartWest, the largest cardiology group in the western and northwestern corridors of Melbourne, with 4 major locations and 3 satellite sites.
At HeartWest, our qualified experts will provide you with the best cardiology care. You will experience nothing but professionalism, care and courtesy; from your first interaction with our staff, to going through tests, procedures and consultations.
Our cardiologists have expertise in all fields of adult cardiology, including;
- General cardiology
- Heart failure
- Cardiac imaging (including stress echocardiography)
- Interventional cardiology
- Electrophysiology & pacing
- Cardiothoracic surgery
Contact us for efficient and affordable specialist heart care services.