This one needs to drop

Hypertension

bolWe have lived in a world dominated by our wish to be fancy and successful for far too long; not that money doesn’t still make the world go round but tables are starting to turn on our long-established perception of where our interests lie and what our intellects should be focusing on. It now is more about inner beauty and psychological balance and health screening. Day by day we become more accustomed to terms that once used to sound like gibberish and we embrace practices that we were once wary of. Who doesn’t know what hypertension is? What cholesterol is? What a stroke is? That a double cheeseburger is bad for the arteries and that diabetes messes with libido? Not even children, not even 90-year olds are in the dark anymore.

One of the most layman-friendly health related topics is high blood pressure. Apart from the theoretical knowledge that the general population possesses in a scale of poorly and distortedly to excellently, the measurement of blood pressure, be it with the classic mercury sphygmomanometer or the talking electronic one, seems to immensely fascinate the crowds, preferably the >60 year-olds.

Subject related amusement is by all means justifiable, since hypertension, as the wise medical experts call it, is not something to be trifled with. According to formal statistical data, abnormally elevated blood pressure majorly increases the danger of suffering a stroke or a heart attack1. More concretely, approximately half of all vascular deaths are attributed to not properly treated hypertension1.

Unfortunately, the majority of the affected or unaffected people fail to grasp the seriousness of this disease and its ugly aftermath, mostly owing to the lack of precise and up-to-date knowledge on the matter, which in turn is closely connected to the lack of a well-organized, nation-wide information strategy. Basic things to know are for starters that the optimal blood pressure of an individual is lower than 120/75 mmHg1; most people tend to think that a systolic blood pressure (the first component of the value) of let’s say 110 is too low and that one of 140 is normal. In fact, a value equal to or greater than 140/90 officially declares a person hypertensive. Another thing that often causes confusion is related to the prescribed medicinal treatment: once started, an anti-hypertensive treatment must be taken for life and should only be discontinued under specific circumstances, for example very advanced age, or a drop pf blood pressure caused by unexpected factors.

Something that many people ignore is that hypertension is not always an independent and, basically, an inexplicable disease but it can sometimes be only a symptom of an underlying malfunction of an organ or a body-function: examples are diseases or structural disorders of the kidneys, problems of the heart and the big arteries, endocrine diseases, even consumed medicines or other substances. Another common misconception is that hypertension manifests itself with a series of typical symptoms, such as a bad headache and a hot flush. In reality, hypertension is usually asymptomatic and the people who suffer from it don’t have headaches more frequently than the general population1. Last but not least, people tend to not realize that hypertension is not just an abnormal value but a malfunction of the cardiovascular system that takes its toll on the health and longevity of the affected person. It damages the arteries, making them stiffer and thicker; it can cause heart failure and kidney failure and even mess with the vision, just to name a few hypertension-induced health problems.

It goes without saying, that doctors cannot work wonders with our problems, if we don’t decide to give them a helping hand. Luckily, or unluckily for the lazy, there’s a lot of simple things that one can do to help reduce their blood pressure. Some strategies of the kind are to lose weight, always by adapting healthy eating habits, to work out (aerobic exercise lasting 30 minutes a day, for the most part of the week2) and to quit unhealthy practices such as excess alcohol consumption, smoking and excess salt intake. Last but not least, keeping in mind that prevention is better than cure, the awareness of the healthy population must be raised, so that regular screening tests (e.g. every three years1) become a way of living.

Thankfully, an abundance of subject related information is available online for everybody to take matters into their own hands and become more active in dealing with the problem called hypertension. Useful and reliable websites to check out are emedicine.medscape.com, mayoclinic.org and webmd.com.
So next time you find that your blood pressure tends to defy the upper normal limits, don’t just assume that it’s the in-laws’ fault for being a pain in the neck, or that you just happened to eat a lot last night or that this fight with the newspaper-boy got your blood boiling. Just think that it could be the start of something beginning with an “h” and don’t let it be. Caring makes all the difference in the world!

References
1: Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine, M Longmore, et al, 8th edition, 2010
2: emedicine.medscape.com