What is blood pressure?

Blood is carried from the heart to all of your body’s tissue and organs in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of those arteries. Every person carries some degree of blood pressure. Normally, your blood pressure can change from minute to minute, with changes in posture, exercise or sleeping for example when you are stressed or exerted your blood pressure goes up but while sleeping at night it goes down. Normal blood pressure is less than 139 mm of Hg systolic and less than 89 mm of Hg diastolic.

What do blood pressure numbers indicate?

Blood pressure is recorded at two points. The higher number represents the maximum pressure within the artery when the heart is contracting and is called as systolic pressure. The lower number represents the minimum pressure within the artery when the heart is relaxing between the beats and is called as diastolic pressure. They are written one above the other. For example: 120/80 (120 over 80); systolic = 120, diastolic = 80.

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is measured with an instrument called as sphygmomanometer. A cuff is wrapped around your upper arm and inflated to stop the blood flow in your artery for a few seconds. A valve is opened and air is then released from the cuff and the sounds of your blood rushing through an artery are heard through a stethoscope. The first sound heard and registered on mercury column is called the systolic blood pressure. The last sound heard, as more air is released from the cuff, is the diastolic blood pressure.

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is a medical term for high blood pressure in adult when the systolic pressure is 140 mm Hg or higher and/or diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher. It is also known as silent killer because it often has no warning signs or symptoms.

Who is at risk for developing hypertension?

Anyone can develop high blood pressure but some people are more likely to develop it. Blood pressure tends to increase with age. In early and middle adult years male are more prone to develop high blood pressure. But after menopause, the tendency in females is increased. While it is mainly a disease of adults it can occur in children as well.

  •  Is hypertension hereditary?

Yes, hypertension tends to run in families. If your parents or grandparents had high blood pressure, your risk may be increased. Therefore, if hypertension is seen in any of the family member it is wise to get your blood pressure checked off and on.

How do I know I have hypertension?

The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked. The test is very simple and painless. You can get it done at your doctor’s clinic. A single reading of high blood pressure does not mean you have hypertension but it’s a sign that you need to monitor it regularly. Diagnosis for high blood pressure is done on the basis of two or more readings, taken on several occasions. If you have a consistent blood pressure reading of 140/90 mm Hg or higher you are hypertensive.

What causes hypertension?

Your heart pumps blood through the body’s arteries. The large arteries leaving your heart end into smaller arteries called arterioles. These arterioles end into smaller vessels called capillaries, which supply oxygen and nutrients to all the organs of your body. The blood finally returns to the heart through the veins.

Certain nerve impulses cause your arteries to dilate (become larger) or contract (become smaller). If these vessels are wide open, blood can flow through easily. If they’re narrow, it’s harder for the blood to flow through them and this result in increased blood pressure.  This leads to increased workload on the heart and the arteries. If high blood pressure continues for a long time the heart gets strained and the arteries are damaged. These changes in the vessels can also affect the other vital organs like brain, kidneys etc.

How dangerous is hypertension and what are its effects on the body?

High blood pressure adds to the workload of your heart and arteries. Your heart must pump harder, and the arteries carry blood that’s moving under greater pressure. If high blood pressure continues for a long time and is not controlled, heart and arteries may not function as well as they should. This can further cause serious problems in the blood vessels, heart, brain, kidneys and eyes. Hypertension directly increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and renal failure.

What Are the Effects of High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy?

Although many pregnant women with high blood pressure have healthy babies without serious problems, high blood pressure can be dangerous for both the mother and the fetus. Women with pre-existing high blood pressure are more likely to have problem during pregnancy than those with normal blood pressure. Some women may develop high blood pressure during pregnancy.

The effects of high blood pressure range from mild to severe. High blood pressure can harm the mother’s kidneys and other organs, and it can cause low birth weight and early delivery. In the most serious cases, the mother develops Preeclampsia (starts after 20th week of pregnancy and is characterized by high blood pressure and proteinuria), which can threaten the lives of both the mother and the fetus.

Is hypertension curable?  What can I do to reduce high blood pressure?

High blood pressure cannot be cured but it can be controlled. If you have high blood pressure you can do a lot to reduce it. First of all get your blood pressure checked regularly. Meet your doctor and determine the best treatment for you. It may involve dietary changes (like low fat and low salt diet), life style changes (like stopping smoking, regular exercising and losing weight). Your doctor will also let you know whether you need medicine along with these changes.

Can drinking too much alcohol increase my blood pressure?

Yes, too much of alcohol can increase your blood pressure. In fact, it can also lead to high blood pressure as it is high in calories and also causes damage to other vital organs like liver, brain, heart etc. Therefore, you should limit the amount of alcohol you take. Alcohol intake must be limited to less than 30ml (1 ounce) per day, if it cannot be curbed. This amount is equal to approximately 1-2 glasses of beer, 2 glasses of wine or 2 pegs of whisky.

Can eating too much salt increase my blood pressure?

Salt usually tends to increase blood pressure in some salt sensitive people. Often it is seen that if people with high blood pressure cut back on salt and sodium, their blood pressure falls.  Since there’s really no practical way to predict exactly who will be affected by sodium, it makes sense to limit intake of salt and sodium to help prevent high blood pressure.

Is there a link between obesity and hypertension?

Yes, obese or overweight people are more prone to develop high blood pressure. In fact, being overweight can make you two to six times more likely to develop high blood pressure than if you are at your desirable weight. Keeping your weight in the desirable range is not only prevents you from high blood pressure but also helps in providing overall health and well being. The healthiest and longest-lasting weight loss happens when you do it slowly, losing 1/2 to 1 pound a week. Eat a low calorie food and be physically active.

Is there any link between coffee and hypertension?

Coffee may increase your blood pressure but it depends how regularly and how much you drink. Coffee has more effect especially in those who are irregular coffee drinkers. The immediate rise in blood pressure could be as high as 5-10 mm Hg. Where as in chronic coffee drinkers the increase in blood pressure is much less. In such cases caffeine appears to desensitize the body so that blood pressure measurements are only 1 to 2 mmHg higher. Even then if you are hypertensive it is good to reduce caffeine intake. In borderline cases of high blood pressure cutting down on caffeine might help you avoid the need for medication in the future