High blood pressure can be a silent killer. It shows no obvious outward symptoms, but left untreated it can lead to severe heart problems and other health dangers. This means that even though around a quarter of all adults are thought to suffer from hypertension (as it’s known medically), few know about it until a routine test reveals it – or worse, the hidden damage it’s caused to the heart develops into potentially life-threatening disease.
Fortunately, the causes of high blood pressure are well understood, and even in fairly severe cases the condition is controllable through a mixture of lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medication.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
There is no single cause of hypertension, but your risk of developing it is made greater if any of the following apply to you:
– You’re overweight.
– You have a poor diet, including one high in salt and/or low in fiber.
– You smoke, or drink alcohol above the recommended limits.
– You drink large amounts of coffee or other drinks containing caffeine.
– You don’t take regular exercise.
The risk increases as you get older, with people over 65 especially vulnerable. There is also a genetic factor: if you have a relative with high blood pressure, or are of African or Caribbean descent, then you’re more likely to suffer from it too.
Consequences of Hypertension
When your blood pressure is high, your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. This raises the risk of heart problems later in life, up to and including heart attacks. That’s not the end of the story though – if your circulation is inefficient, you also risk:
– Stroke, where blood vessels in the brain rupture leading to brain damage.
– Blocked blood vessels (embolism) leading to heart attack and/or brain damage.
– Burst blood vessels (aneurysm) leading to internal bleeding anywhere in the body.
– Vascular dementia, where blood flow to the brain is restricted causing progressive cell damage.
High blood pressure can also damage the delicate blood vessels inside your kidneys, leading to renal disease and even failure.
Treatment for High Blood Pressure
In minor cases, lifestyle changes to correct any of the problems listed above are often enough to bring high blood pressure back under control. However, if you have other risk factors for heart disease (diabetes or high cholesterol, for example), or if your pressure is consistently very high, drugs may need to be prescribed.
In all cases regular monitoring is essential once you have been diagnosed. It’s a good idea to have your blood pressure tested at least once a year to ensure that the condition isn’t deteriorating.
High blood pressure is an unfortunate result of typical modern lifestyles, where a poor diet and lack of exercise conspire with other risk factors to place excessive strains on the heart. The good news is that many of these causes are entirely avoidable, and even in severe cases hypertension can usually be successfully treated and controlled under the guidance of your doctor.