Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. The pressure in a person's arteries (blood vessels) is determined by the pumping action of the heart and the resistance (degree of stiffness) in the arteries. When the heart contracts and pushes the blood through the arteries, the pressure rises and reaches a peak, called the systolic pressure. During the relaxation of the heart muscle, the pressure falls and reaches a low level, called the diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is always recorded as the systolic reading over the diastolic reading. Normal blood pressure is usually below 130/80 mmHg.
With the development of atherosclerosis and with age, arteries lose elasticity ("hardening of the arteries"). This makes it more difficult for the heart to deliver blood through the blood vessels and the pressure rises. The higher pressure, in turn, can cause further hardening of the arteries. This situation leads to hypertension. Hypertension is a sign of vascular disease (arteries that have lost their natural elasticity), as well as a cause of further vascular disease. Individuals with elevated blood pressure have a greater risk of suffering from the consequences of vascular damage, such as heart failure, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
Lowering the blood pressure with diet, exercise, weight loss and smoking cessation is beneficial. In many cases of hypertension, such life style changes are not enough to lower blood pressure enough, and medications are needed. High blood pressure medicines are usually easy to take and well tolerated. This is even more important for individuals with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, family history of stroke or heart disease and cigarette smoking.
Problems in the treatment of hypertension include the fact that many people are unaware of their elevated blood pressure. Every adult should know his or her blood pressure, and should seek medical advice if it is elevated.
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