Hypertension is the medical word for high blood pressure. Hypertension is persistently raised blood pressure (the pressure of blood in the main arteries). Blood pressure goes up temporarily as a normal response to stress and physical activity, and it rises naturally with increasing age and weight. A person with hypertension, however, has persistently high blood pressure even when at rest. Because the condition itself causes no symptoms, a large number of people have hypertension without realizing it; however, because hypertension causes the risk of developing serious cardio-vascular disorders to increase, regular medical checks are advised in order to detect the condition at an early stage.
Hypertension is very common, particularly in men, and its incidence is highest in the middle-aged and elderly. Blood pressure is measured as two values, each expressed as millimetres (mm) of mercury (chemical symbol Hg) or mmHg. The systolic value (the higher value) is the pressure when blood surges into the aorta from the heart; the diastolic value is the pressure when the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart) relax between beats. A blood pressure consistently exceeding about 140 mmHg (systolic) and 90 mmHg (diastolic) at rest is defined as hypertension.
Symptoms and complications
Hypertension is usually symptomless, and generally goes undiscovered until detected during a routine physical examination. However, if it is severe or accelerated (known as malignant hypertension) it may cause headaches, breathlessness, and visual disturbances. The condition puts considerable strain on the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, and heart failure. Hypertension may eventually lead to kidney damage and retinopathy (damage to the retina at the back of the eye).
In many cases, there is no obvious cause, in which case the condition is called essential hypertension. Genetic factors are important, although hypertension is not attributed to a specific gene. Other factors that are associated with hypertension include high alcohol intake, a high-salt diet, obesity, diabetes mellitus, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking. There is also evidence that low birth weight increases the risk of developing hypertension in later life. If hypertension results from a specific disorder, the condition is known as secondary hypertension. Causes include various kidney disorders; certain disorders of the adrenal glands; pre-eclampsia (a complication of pregnancy); coarctation of the aorta (a congenital heart defect); and the use of certain drugs. Taking the combined contraceptive pill can lead to hypertension in susceptible women.
The patient’s blood pressure is measured at rest on several occasions in order to make a diagnosis. If there is any doubt, an ambulatory blood pressure device is fitted to monitor blood pressure over a 24 hour period. This may detect a condition known as white coat hypertension, in which blood pressure is raised during a test by a doctor, but it is otherwise normal and does not require treatment. The eyes may also be examined for evidence of long-standing hypertension. If secondary hypertension is suspected,blood tests, X-rays, and other appropriate tests are carried out to exclude any potential causes.
With mild to moderate hypertension, if no underlying cause is found, lifestyle changes are recommended as the first line of treatment. For example, smokers should give up their habit and drinkers should reduce their consumption of alcohol. Any overweight person with hypertension should try to lose weight by modifying the diet and introducing gradually increasing amounts of exercise into the daily routine. Biofeedback training and relaxation techniques can also help to reduce blood pressure. If self-help measures have no effect, or if hypertension is severe, anti-hypertensive drugs may be given.
There is a large range of drug treatments available and the treatment chosen depends on the presence of other disorders, such as diabetes mellitus. The response of the condition to treatment, as well as any side effects it has provoked, may prompt a change of treatment. Usually, the patient is monitored by having regular blood pressure checks, so that adjustments to drug type or dosage can be made if necessary. It may be possible for the patient to monitor his or her own blood pressure at home, but the individual’s machine should be checked regularly and calibrated against the doctor’s machine. In many cases, drug treatment must continue for life, but this may help to extend life expectancy significantly.
Diet for High Blood Pressure
A well established and famous diet for high blood pressure is the well researched DASH diet. Read more here: The DASH Diet To Lower Blood Pressure
What you eat affects your blood pressure in several ways.
Eating a lot of foods which are high in saturated fats can cause a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis causes your blood vessels to narrow, resulting in high blood pressure.
Foods that are high in fat or sugar can also contribute to obesity, which increases your risk of high blood pressure. The same applies if you eat more calories than you burn.
Some foods, such as salt, can raise your blood pressure. Other foods, for example those that are high in minerals such as potassium, may help to lower it.
Eating a balanced diet not only helps to keep you at a healthy weight but can also help you improve your blood pressure.
Which foods can increase high blood pressure?
One of the likely culprits in your diet that might be responsible for raising your blood pressure is salt. There is strong evidence to show that eating too much salt may have more of an effect on your blood pressure than obesity or lack of exercise.
A diet that’s high in salt can upset the normal balance of sodium in your body. This leads to fluid retention and increases your blood pressure. According to figures from Action on Salt it’s suggested that reducing your salt intake from 10g a day to 6g could reduce your blood pressure and an overall reduction in salt intake by this amount could result in a 16 per cent reduction in deaths from strokes and a 12 per cent reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease. Reducing salt is certainly one of the fastest ways to reduce your blood pressure, especially if you know that you already have high blood pressure.
A low-fat diet is recommended for most people who need to reach or maintain a healthy weight.
A lower fat diet may also help you keep your cholesterol levels low, or reduce them if you need to. High cholesterol can increase your risk of a stroke, or heart disease, and so if you already know that you have high cholesterol it’s even more important to make sure that you keep your blood pressure healthy. It can also help you lose weight.
Not all fats are bad – you can still eat foods that contain ‘good’ polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats (think oily fish, avocado and olive oil) although don’t overdo it as they can still lead to weight gain.
Try to avoid saturated fats, these are usually found in processed foods like pies and cakes, red meats, butter, palm oil and ghee.
Are there any foods that lower blood pressure?
Foods which contain potassium, magnesium, and fibre are all thought to help control blood pressure.
Potassium is a mineral that helps to lower blood pressure by balancing out the negative effects that salt has on your body. You can get potassium from a wide range of foods, such as potatoes, (including sweet potatoes) bananas, no added sugar tomato sauce, orange juice, yoghurt and fat free milk. Tuna in all forms is also a good source of potassium but be careful not to choose tuna tinned in brine as it is very high in salt.
Nuts, seeds, legumes (beans), lean meats and poultry are good sources of magnesium. Almonds are particularly high in magnesium.
Making sure that you get your five a day of fruit and vegetables is a good way to get fibre into your diet, as are nuts. Choose raw, unsalted nuts rather than salty snacks.
What is the best diet for blood pressure?
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet was designed by experts in the US an aid to lower high blood pressure. Recent studies have also found that it can help to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even some types of cancer.
The basics of the DASH diet are that you should eat fewer foods that contain fats (especially saturated fats), cholesterol, red meat, sweets and sugary drinks.
The plan emphasises foods which are rich in nutrients known to have a positive effect on blood pressure, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein and fibre. You can eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, low fat and fat free dairy products, fish, poultry, whole grains and nuts.
- Choose fresh fish, poultry and meat.
- Avoid processed meats wherever possible.
- Don’t eat too many cured foods such as bacon.
- Avoid pickled foods, anything tinned in brine, and salty condiments.
- Don’t add salt when you’re cooking rice or pasta.
- Try to avoid ready meals and frozen convenience foods.
- Rinse tinned tuna and beans before eating to remove excess salt.
- Eat more fruit – add it to your breakfast or just have it as a healthy snack.
- Reduce your meat intake by using it as a smaller part of a meal instead of the main focus.
- Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum as alcohol can increase your blood pressure.