Hypertension, or high blood pressure, as it is more commonly known, is often referred to as the “silent killer”. In most cases, hypertension doesn’t present with any specific symptoms and can go unnoticed for years, until it is often too late. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 75 million Americans (32% of the population) suffer from hypertension. That translates to 1 in 3 Americans, while another 1 in 3 Americans are at the pre-hypertension stage, where the blood pressure is higher than normal, but not enough yet to be classified in the high blood pressure range.
There are a few simple facts about hypertension that are important to know and will help in understanding the disease. Firstly, the symptoms of hypertension can often be misconstrued as something else, as there isn’t a proverbial “smoking gun”, and a lot of people who are hypertensive are not aware of it. Secondly, hypertension can be caused by a multitude of factors, most often being genetic or lifestyle factors, and slowly develops over time. Although hypertension in incurable, however, it can be managed effectively with a combination of medication, appropriate lifestyle changes, and working closely with your physician to monitor your progress.
In order to understand hypertension and how it is classified and treated, one must first understand what exactly does hypertension mean and how it is measured. Blood pressure is the force that the blood exerts on the walls of the arteries within the body. As your heart pumps, it forces blood out through arteries that carry the blood throughout your body. The arteries keep tapering off in size until they become tiny vessels, called capillaries. At the capillary level, oxygen and nutrients are released from the blood and delivered to the organs. There are two types of blood pressure: systolic blood pressure refers to the pressure inside the arteries when the heart is pumping; diastolic pressure is the pressure inside the arteries when the heart is resting between beats. When the arteries are healthy and dilated, blood flows easily and the heart doesn’t have to work too hard. But when the arteries are too narrow or stiff, blood pressure rises, the heart gets overworked, and arteries can become damaged.
The field of medicine classifies hypertension into 5 distinctive classes:
The terms blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse are often confused as interchangeable but they are all markedly different. As mentioned, blood pressure is the force exerted by blood against the walls of the arteries. Changes in this blood pressure causes a pulse in main arteries. In healthy individuals, this means the heart rate is often synchronized with the pulse. However, heart rate and pulse rate are technically different because a heart rate measures the rate of contractions (heart beats) of the heart, whereas a pulse rate measures the rate of palpable blood pressure increases throughout the body.
Hypertension can develop slowly over a long period of time, and blood pressure is affected by a variety of factors, such as smoking, caffeine, a full bladder, and recent physical activity. Blood pressure is also affected by the emotional state and the time of day. Since so many factors can affect a blood pressure reading, it needs to be taken several times to get an accurate measurement. Over time, an individual with a seemingly healthy blood pressure can develop high blood pressure with no apparent signs or symptoms. Hence it is important for blood pressure to be constantly monitored by home devices such as sphygmomanometers, or wearables such as health trackers.