The facts about High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Author – Daniel Sharpe-Szunko
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, rarely ever has any visible symptoms, but can increase the chances of dangerous problems like a heart attack or stroke. As it has no noticeable indicators, the only way to find out if you have hypertension is to get your blood pressure checked. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to fatal consequences so a check can quite literally save your life.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is when the pressure of the blood in your arteries is consistently too high. Arteries are the blood vessels that deliver blood from the heart to other areas of your body and you need blood pressure to get the blood moving. Your blood pressure will go up and down during the day depending on if you are exercising or resting. However, if your blood pressure is typically high at all times then it needs to be treated.
Every person’s blood pressure is different so what is high for you may not be high for someone else. This is why it is important to get it checked by a medical professional. Hypertension, if left untreated, can lead to serious conditions like heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.
History of Hypertension
Although our understanding of hypertension has only solidified in the past few hundred years since Stephen Hales, an English Clergyman, made the first published measurement of blood pressure in 1733, human beings have been assessing the health of the heart as far back as 2600 BC. An illness of the heart known as hard blood disease was treated with bleeding from leeches by figures from Hippocrates to Cornelius Celsus. Medieval Persian medical texts refer to a disease named fullness disease, a disease that has the symptoms of what we now call Hypertension.
After the discovery of blood pressure, the physician Richard Bright noted the relationship between cardiac hypertrophy and kidney disease illustrating the dangers high blood pressure can bring to parts of the body other than the heart. Frederick Akbar Mahomed reported decades later the first example of high blood pressure without kidney disease by using a sphygmograph, a mechanical device used to measure blood pressure. This led to the discovery of high blood pressure being a general circulatory disease.
The concept of Hypertension came into practice when the invention of the cuff-based sphygmomanometer occurred in 1896 by Scipione Riva Rocci, allowing blood pressure to be measured in a clinic. In 1911, Eberhard Frank coined the term Essential Hypertension, which describes 95% of hypertensive patients today.
What are the different types of Hypertension?
There are two primary types of hypertension:
Essential Hypertension is when the cause of hypertension is unknown. These cases make up around 95% of the people who have the condition. This type of hypertension is diagnosed when your doctor has eliminated all other types of hypertension after noticing an extended period of high blood pressure.
Secondary Hypertension is a type of hypertension that is caused by another medical condition. It can be caused by anything from tumors to kidney disease and many medications. This type can often be controlled once the root cause is found.
What are the signs and symptoms of Hypertension?
Hypertension rarely ever has any noticeable symptoms, a dangerous characteristic when the consequences can be so dangerous. Many who have high blood pressure feel fine but it can sometimes result in blurred vision, nosebleeds, or headaches in some cases.
It is important to get your blood pressure checked at least every five years as a healthy middle-aged adult. More at-risk adults should get checked yearly.
What causes Hypertension?
We still don’t know what exactly causes high blood pressure in most cases but there are several factors that can increase the risk.
It is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly after 40 as your chances of hypertension increase as you age. High levels of salt, alcohol consumption and smoking can all contribute to high blood pressure as can lack of exercise and sleep deprivation. It is therefore advised to make healthy lifestyle choices so as to decrease your risk.
People of African or Caribbean origin are also more susceptible to high blood pressure and the condition tends to run in families. If your family has a history of Hypertension elevates the chances of you contracting it yourself.
As mentioned earlier, the rarer cases of Secondary Hypertension are caused by another health condition or certain medications. The health conditions can range from kidney disease to diabetes. In some cases when medication, like the contraceptive pill, is responsible for Hypertension, the blood pressure can return to normal once the individual stops taking it.
How can you prevent Hypertension?
Although the exact cause of Hypertension is unknown, there are several steps you can take to decrease your chances of high blood pressure. These include:
- Exercising for at least twenty minutes each day
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet and cutting down on salt
- Keeping to a healthy weight
- Watching your alcohol consumption
Hypertension is not something many of us will notice so it is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.
Stroke statistics (UK)
According to Health matters, Public Health England’s (PHEs) professional resource, in 2017:
- In the UK, high blood pressure is the third biggest risk factor for all disease after smoking and poor diet
- Around one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure. In England, 31% of men and 26% of women have high blood pressure
- High blood pressure costs the NHS over £2.1 billion every year
- Between 50-80% of people with high blood pressure do not take all of their prescribed medication
- High blood pressure accounts for 12% of all GP appointments in England
Public Health England, Health matters: combating high blood pressure, January 2017 (references)
Hypertension awareness events
World Hypertension day is held in May to help raise awareness to people all over the globe and to educate the public about blood pressure problems
Blood Pressure Awareness week in the UK is also known as ‘know your numbers’ to help increase awareness around testing your blood pressure. Usually held in September and run by the Blood Pressure UK charity
National High Blood Pressure Education month is an American event to raise awareness around regular testing
Hypertension and Blood Pressure charities/Support (UK)
Blood Pressure UK
Helpline: 020 7882 6218
Address: Wolfson Institute of Prevention Medicine, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6BQ
British Heart Foundation
Helpline: 0300 330 3311
Address: Greater London House, 180 Hampstead Road, London, NW1 7AW
Helpline: 0303 3033 100
Address: 240 City Road, London, EC1V 2PR
NHS Choices (Hypertension)
Emergency: Dial 111