Definition: what is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure (HBP) is a cardiovascular condition caused by an increased tension in the arteries. That means that the pressure exerted by the blood on the artery walls is stronger than normal. HBP can cause many complications such as heart and vascular problems, kidney failure or ocular tension.
High blood pressure is the most common cardiovascular condition which affects around 20% of the world population and 40% of people over the age of 65.
Symptoms of high blood pressure
High blood pressure is silent in most cases and therefore doesn’t present any symptoms. For this reason, it is commonly discovered by chance during a medical check-up. Some non-characteristic symptoms can nevertheless help the diagnosis when the blood pressure is very high.
People with high blood pressure can experience headaches in the morning, found most often at the back of the skull, insomnia, fatigue, nervousness, nosebleeds or vertigo.
Causes of high blood pressure
It is difficult to determine the precise causes of high blood pressure. However, some risk factors have been identified by researchers. Lifestyle and diet play important roles in the appearance of this condition.
Consuming too much salt, liquorice, tobacco and alcohol also promote high blood pressure, as well as a lack of physical activity and being stressed far too often. Age and family history are also taken into account.
Diagnosing high blood pressure
In order to determine the level of blood pressure, it is necessary to use a blood pressure cuff. Two types of pressure must be identified in order to produce the measurement. Systolic pressure is the pressure of the blood when the heart contracts. It is at this moment that it is the highest with around 120mmHg (millimetre of mercury) for a normal high blood pressure. Diastolic pressure is the pressure when the heart is relaxed and goes back to its original volume. This is around 80mmHg for a person with normal blood pressure.
It is known as high blood pressure when the systolic blood pressure is over 140mmHg and the diastolic blood pressure is over 90mmHg. The measurement must be done several times at once, and after resting for a few minutes, lying down or sitting up. The process must also be repeated during close consultations.
There is also a second technique that can be done at home, known as ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM). The patient has to wear an appliance on the arm for 24 hours which automatically takes pressure measurements every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes at night.
Treating high blood pressure: how to lower the pressure
There is no treatment with can make high blood pressure disappear completely. Hygiene and dietary measures are put in place to help lower this blood pressure. They rely on adjusting the diet, stopping alcohol and tobacco consumption as well as doing more physical activity.
These measures can be adequate when the high blood pressure is mild but are most commonly accompanied by medicinal treatment. Various medications are used such as diuretics, which aim to eliminate salt through the urine. Beta-blockers slow down the heart rate and limit the intensity of pressure while calcium channel blockers cause the arteries to dilate. Finally, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) counter the angiotensin which impacts the blood pressure.
It is a long-term treatment and in the majority of cases, stopping it suddenly can cause an immediate setback and a strong increase in pressure.