Under Pressure: what is hypertension?
Blood pressure is a very important aspect of our health and high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The great news is that you can reduce your blood pressure, and by doing that reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Really simply, blood pressure is the pressure exerted against the walls of your arteries by the blood being pumped around the body. When we measure blood pressure, we look at the pressure when the heart contracting and pushing blood around (systolic pressure), and also the pressure when the heart is relaxing between beats (diastolic pressure).
The problem with hypertension is that it can start to cause micro-damage to the blood vessel walls, resulting in plaque formation called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the beginning step of cardiovascular disease, and this plaque build up can eventually block arteries leading strokes and heart attacks. Some of the other factors that can increase your risk of plaque formation in the blood vessels include high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and being overweight.
The problem with hypertension is that it can start to cause micro-damage to the blood vessel walls, resulting in plaque formation called atherosclerosis.
Blood pressure can become high for a number of reasons. Obesity, a high salt diet, smoking, medications, alcohol and drugs can all drive up blood pressure. Sometimes hypertension can be a result of an underlying health condition for example problems with the kidneys, hormones, or even snoring. If you have high blood pressure it’s important to be seen by a doctor to make sure there’s no other condition which may be causing your hypertension. Your doctor may want you to monitor your blood pressure at home, or send you for a 24 hour blood pressure monitor to see what your blood pressure does during the course of the day and may consider doing blood and urine tests as well. Most people however don’t have an underlying cause for their hypertension, as it ultimately comes down to genetic make up – this is called essential hypertension.
So what can you do about hypertension?
Loosing weight, managing stress, doing cardiovascular exercise and maintaining a good diet is a great way to try and bring blood pressure into the normal range but ultimately if you have essential hypertension without other causes for your high blood pressure identified, then you may need to go on medication to treat it. There are lots of really effective, safe medications to help treat high blood pressure and as a result reduce your risk of strokes and heart attacks. See your doc to talk more about this!