High blood pressure (HBP) is a common disease, in which blood pressure remains abnormally high for a long period of time. The blood pressure is determined by the force with which the heart pumps the blood into the vessels and is measured in the medium-sized arteries of the arms. People with high blood pressure are at increased risk of getting a heart disease.
In almost ninety percent of the patients with high blood pressure, no exact cause is found. Doctors call this essential or primary arterial hypertension. In five to ten percent of the cases, however, a cause is identified. This is called secondary hypertension, for which kidney diseases, certain hormonal disorders or intake of various substances are responsible. Essential arterial hypertension is likely due to several factors, including hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in the heart and blood vessels, which increase blood pressure.
Obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol or salt consumption may also play a role in the occurrence of high blood pressure, especially in predisposed persons. In some families, high blood pressure is significantly more common than in general population.
High blood pressure usually shows no symptoms. It’s a ‘silent disease’. People with high blood pressure often don’t notice it. Headache, especially in the back of the head, which occurs in the morning, belongs to the most prominent symptoms of early high blood pressure, but still more often remains absent. Dizziness, light-headedness, poor vision, nausea, heart palpitations, muscle weakness, nosebleeds, wheezing in the ears, chest pain and shortness of breath also occur.
If the blood pressure is elevated in multiple measurements, we speak of high blood pressure. Both systolic pressure (maximum value) and diastolic pressure (minimum value) or one of both can be raised. Before the conclusion may be drawn that there is high blood pressure, multiple measurements have to be done at different times of the day over a period of several weeks. It is of great importance that the patient is really in a state of rest and that the blood pressure is not measured when the patient, for example, has just cycled for a quarter of an hour into the wind. There should also be no great emotions (happiness, stress), because they can temporarily raise blood pressure.
People with high blood pressure should initially adjust their lifestyle on several fronts. If this is not sufficiently, there are medications that can lower blood pressure:
- Beta blockers. These drugs are used to slow down the heart rate and thus lowering blood pressure.
- Diuretics. These drugs ensure that more fluid is drained with the urine. This reduces the amount of fluid in the body and lowers blood pressure.
- Vasodilators. These drugs allow the blood vessels to remain a bit wider, which lowers blood pressure.
High blood pressure is not life-threatening in itself, but can cause damage to the heart and blood vessels. As a result, the patient has an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, heart failure, kidney failure, stroke, heart attack or damage to the eyes. By using both medication and non-medication therapy, this risk can be reduced. The medication is for life. When the patient stops taking the drugs, the blood pressure will rise again and the risks increase. Regular checking of blood pressure is necessary. This way, the medication can be adjusted to changes.
By following the next lifestyle advices, the risk of cardiovascular diseases can be reduced:
- Quit smoking. Smoking is very harmful to heart and blood vessels.
- Get sufficient exercise by moving intensively for half an hour at least five days a week, such as making a good walk, cycling, gardening, climbing stairs or swimming.
- Eat healthy and varied. Eat especially fruits and vegetables, potatoes and cereal products.
- Choose skimmed milk and meat products, chicken, fish or meat substitutes.
- Eat little saturated fats. Instead, choose for unsaturated fats, such as oily fish, vegetable oil and diet-margarine.
- Don’t add salt to the meal and use ready-made products, snacks and pretzels (chips) as little as possible, because they contain a lot of salt.
- Don’t eat too much liquorice.
- Drink no more than two glasses of alcohol a day and preferably not every day.
- In case of obesity, try to lose weight by eating healthy and doing more exercise.
- Try to deal with causes of stress and ensure daily moments of relaxation.
- The term ‘hypertension’ is derived from the Greek prefix hupér- (over, beyond, excessive) and the Latin word tensio (stretching, muscle contraction, tightening).
- The prevalence of high blood pressure is 25%.
- Men run a much higher risk of developing high blood pressure than women.
- High blood pressure is the leading cause of death in the world.