What is high blood pressure?

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Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, and the content of this website was created for informational purposes only. Such content is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, treatment or diagnosis.

There’s nothing better than to be reminded of the best things life has to offer. In honor of that thought, this blog is currently running a short series of posts on diabetes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. You know what they say: beatings will continue until morale improves!

In this post we’ll go over what high blood pressure is, what its symptoms are, what causes it, and why it is so dangerous.

What is high blood pressure?

Unlike other conditions, high blood pressure is pretty self-explanatory. Hypertension, high blood pressure’s other name, refers to having a blood pressure that is above healthy levels. Since that’s not much of an answer, let’s take a look at what blood pressure is and why hypertension is dangerous.

As you know, the heart constantly pumps blood all around the body, carrying oxygen and nutrients to the different organs and tissues, while also removing waste products from them. As the heart’s ventricles contract to push blood all over our body, this translates to blood itself pushing against the walls of the various blood vessels: arteries (which carry blood away from the heart), veins (which carry blood towards the heart), and the capillaries (where the blood and tissues exchange their respective products to each other).

Why is high blood pressure dangerous?

There are several reasons why having hypertension is dangerous. On one hand, the fact that blood pressure is higher means that the heart is pumping harder. Since the heart is a muscle, it adapts to having to work harder by becoming larger. Cardiomyopathy, having an enlarged heart, comes along with the heart becoming thicker and sometimes stiffer, which means that it becomes less efficient at pumping blood. Obviously, having a heart that struggles to pump blood is not a good thing, and it tends to result in abnormal hearth rhythms, heart failure and blood backups.

On the other hand, imagine the plumbing in your home being constantly subjected to higher pressures than usual, eventually they will burst. When it comes to our blood vessels, by being subjected to higher pressures, they become thicker and restrict blood flow. This, in turn, may result in ischemia (a restriction in blood supply to tissues which results in a lack of oxygen) which causes damage to surrounding tissues. At the same time, by restricting blood flow, the heart must work even harder to pump blood, increasing blood pressure further.

As bad as all of that sounds there is another thing to consider. Since the damage caused by high blood pressure tends to happen at a localized and small scale, the condition can further develop through the years and become worse without the appearance of any symptoms. Unsurprisingly, this is why hypertension is also called the silent killer.

High blood pressure comes in two flavors, primary and secondary. Primary high blood pressure develops slowly over time without any identifiable cause. Secondary high blood pressure develops quickly and there may be some factors that contribute to it.

So what actually causes high blood pressure?

Although primary hypertension develops without an identifiable cause, some factors that are thought to be related to it are the following

  • genetics: Time to blame your parents and grandparents
  • environment: Time to blame yourself. Your lifestyle choices can result in a poor diet or a lack of physical activity and either take their toll.
  • physical changes: As we age, our bodies begin to break down or slowly change how well they work. High blood pressure may be on the results.

Clearly, only one of the factors is within our control, so be responsible and take care of yourself.

When it comes to secondary hypertension, factors similar to the prior ones may be at play. However, since secondary hypertension develops quicker, specific diseases, behaviors or conditions may also be to blame, such as

  • congenital heart defects
  • kidney disease
  • sleep apnea
  • thyroid issues
  • side effects of medications
  • drug use
  • tumors
  • alcohol use

Like before, most factors are beyond our control, so try to take care of yourself.

So how high is high?

Although the symptoms of high blood pressure may take some time to be apparent, frequent measurements of blood pressure can reveal if the condition is present. Still, it takes a doctor to diagnose and confirm high blood pressure, so have your regular checkups like you’re supposed to.

That having been said, the next chart, provided by the American Heart Association, shows the different categories one can be classified into depending on their blood pressure.

Healthy and unhealthy blood pressure ranges. From Heart.org

In the interest of understanding, let’s explain what systolic and diastolic pressures mean. Picture your heart beating by continuously clenching your fist and then stretching your fingers. The systolic blood pressure is the one exerted by the heart when it squeezes and pushes blood through the arteries. That is, when you clench your fist. In contrast, diastolic pressure occurs when your heart takes a brief rest, when you stretch your fingers, and blood flows into it.

Another way to understand the difference between systolic and diastolic pressures is that the systolic pressure is the one that the heart exerts on the arteries when beating and the diastolic pressure is the one that blood exerts on the arteries.

Symptoms of high blood pressure

From less to more severe, symptoms of high blood pressure can be as follows:

  • headaches
  • shortness of breath
  • nosebleeds
  • flushing
  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • visual changes (like blurred vision)
  • blood in urine

Should high blood pressure be left untreated, further complications can develop, like

  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • eye damage (retinopathy)
  • stroke (brain damage)

In closing

High blood pressure sounds terrible, so take care of yourself, stay healthy and work with your doctor. Next week we’ll end this short series on the best of the worst that life has to offer when we talk about metabolic syndrome.

If you’ve enjoyed this post and would like to see more content like it, check out our page on Rebuttals to Fatlogic.

See you next week!

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