Hypertension is more commonly known as high blood pressure, and it’s a major health problem. Your blood pressure normally rises and falls during the day; however, if it remains too high for too long, it can cause serious complications, including death. According to the CDC, hypertension was a primary or contributing cause of death for almost 500,000 people in the US in 2018, and what’s worse, only 24% of those living with it have it under control.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, cardiologists Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman stress the importance of getting regular blood pressure checks, as you may have hypertension and be unaware of it since it often doesn’t cause any symptoms. That’s why it’s called the “silent killer.” Here, the team discusses the causes of hypertension, so you can mitigate your risks.
What, exactly, is blood pressure, and how do you measure it?
Your arteries are part of your circulatory system and convey oxygen-rich blood from your heart to your body’s tissues. Blood pressure is a measure of how much force the blood exerts on your arteries’ walls while traveling.
Blood pressure readings consist of two numbers, stated as one number over the other. The upper number is called the systolic pressure; it’s the pressure against the walls when the heart actively beats. The lower number is called the diastolic pressure; it’s the pressure against the walls when the heart rests between beats. In healthy adults, a normal blood pressure reading should be around 120/80.
Hypertension occurs when readings fall above these numbers; it means the heart has to work harder to pump the same amount of blood. That can not only damage the blood vessels, but it can also damage your eyes, kidneys, and even your brain.
Types of hypertension
There are two different forms of hypertension.
1. Primary hypertension
Most cases are primary cases, where there's no immediately identifiable cause of elevated blood pressure. It’s also called essential hypertension, and it usually develops gradually over time.
2. Secondary hypertension
Secondary hypertension results from an underlying medical condition, such as obstructive sleep apnea, adrenal tumors, thyroid problems, and kidney disease; it can also be caused by some medications and illicit drugs. Secondary hypertension tends to appear suddenly and causes higher pressure readings than primary hypertension.
What’s causing my hypertension?
Most causes of hypertension can be traced back to lifestyle factors, such as
Being overweight or obese
The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply your body with oxygen and other nutrients. That increased blood volume leads to increased pressure on the artery walls, which may damage them. In addition, the extra weight puts extra strain on your heart, which has to pump harder to meet your body’s needs.
Eating an unhealthy diet
High-fat, high-cholesterol, high-calorie foods endanger your health. Specifically, they often lead to the buildup of a fatty plaque on the blood vessel walls, which hardens and narrows the arteries. To push enough blood to your extremities, your heart has to work harder, increasing pressure.
In addition, too much sodium (table salt) causes your body to retain fluid, and the added volume increases your blood pressure. Potassium is a different salt, one that helps balance the concentration of sodium in your cells. If you don’t get enough potassium, sodium builds up and increases pressure.
Not being physically active
Couch potatoes often have higher heart rates than those who are physically active, and the higher the rate, the harder your heart has to pump with each contraction. That means it’s putting additional stress on your arteries with each beat. Lack of activity also increases your risk of being overweight, putting you in double jeopardy.
Tobacco use — smoking, vaping, and chewing — all raise your blood pressure immediately, though temporarily. The many chemicals in the leaves, though, cause more lasting damage. They irritate the artery walls, causing them to narrow and harden (atherosclerosis). And that means your heart has to pump harder to push the blood through. Even secondhand smoke increases risk.
Too much stress
When you’re stressed, your body produces adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that increase your blood pressure temporarily by increasing heart rate and narrowing blood vessels. Short-term that’s not a problem, but if you’re chronically stressed, your blood pressure can increase over time.
To learn more about how you can decrease your hypertension risk, or to be evaluated for cardiac or circulatory system problems, contact Northwest Houston Heart Center by calling any of our four Houston-area locations — in Cypress, Magnolia, The Woodlands, and Tomball, Texas — or booking your appointment online. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.