Your comprehensive guide to high blood pressure symptoms, causes, diagnosis and more

Key Takeaways

1. Only 12% of the 220 million people with high blood pressure in India have it under control.

2. Symptoms of high blood pressure may include headaches, nosebleeds, irregular heartbeats, and vision changes, and severe cases can lead to fatigue, nausea, confusion, and chest pain.

3. Causes of hypertension include genetics, environmental factors like obesity, excessive sodium intake, lack of physical fitness, alcohol consumption, and less common reasons like renal diseases and sleep apnea.

4. Complications of hypertension involve risks such as heart attacks, vision loss, strokes, angina, kidney disease, sexual dysfunction, peripheral artery disease, and heart failure. 

5. Management of hypertension involves lifestyle changes, including weight loss, a healthy diet, reduced sodium intake, physical activity, and limited alcohol consumption. Regular monitoring and medical check-ups are essential.

Introduction

According to WHO, cardiovascular disease affects about 45% of the population between the ages of 45 and 69. 

Among the 220 million Indias who suffer from high BP, only 12% have it under control. Hence, it is essential to understand blood pressure and how you can manage it.

What is hypertension?

When blood flows, it exerts pressure on your blood vessels. But when your blood pressure increases above a specific limit, it is called hypertension.

A chart of blood pressure ranges

Systolic blood pressure is the maximum blood pressure as the heart contracts. The diastolic pressure means the minimum pressure between the heartbeats. 

Blood pressure is expressed as 120/80 mm Hg, a combination of systolic and diastolic pressure.

High BP/ hypertension symptoms

Most people with high blood pressure do not have signs or symptoms. But in some cases, long-term elevated BP symptoms include: 

  • Early morning headaches, nosebleeds, irregular heartbeats, vision changes, and ear buzzing
  • Severe cases: fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, anxiety, chest pain, and muscle tremors.
  • Strokes and kidney damage
  • Damages to the heart

Factors causing hypertension

Certain factors make you more susceptible to developing hypertension. These include:

  1. Genetics:
    Hypertension is a complex disorder caused by many genes or combinations of genes that affect blood pressure.
  2. Environmental Risk Factors:
    1. Overweight and Obesity: Obesity may be responsible for up to 40% of cases of hypertension.
    2. Sodium Intake: Excessive salt consumption increases BP.
    3. Physical Fitness: High BP is more likely to happen if you are not physically fit.
    4. Alcohol: Regular alcohol drinkers are more likely to develop hypertension.
  3. Less common reasons for secondary hypertension:
    1. Renovascular disease: A condition where the blood vessels leading to the kidneys narrow, potentially reducing blood flow and causing kidney problems.
    2. Drug-induced: Hypertension as a side effect of a medicine.
    3. Renal parenchymal disease: Damage in the functional tissue of the kidneys.
    4. Obstructive sleep apnoea: A sleep disorder where breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep.
    5. Primary aldosteronism: A condition in which adrenal glands produce too much aldosterone, a hormone that regulates salt and water balance, leading to high blood pressure.

Types of hypertension

There are two main types of hypertension. 

Primary hypertension

Primary hypertension is a common and chronic medical condition where blood pressure consistently remains elevated with no specific identifiable cause.

Secondary hypertension

Secondary hypertension refers to high blood pressure because of an underlying medical condition rather than a standalone health issue. It often results from kidney problems, hormonal disorders, or the use of certain drugs.

High blood pressure dangers

There are many dangers of hypertension in the long term.

Chronic hypertension leads to many complications like: 

1. Heart Attack

Hypertension damages the coronary arteries, promoting the build-up of plaque. This can lead to heart attacks as blood clots block arteries, depriving the heart tissue of oxygen and nutrients. 

2. Vision Loss

Hypertension may damage the tiny blood vessels in the eyes, leading to:

  1. Damage to Blood vessels (Retinopathy)
  2. Fluid build-up in the eye (Choroidopathy)
  3. Nerve Damage (Optic Neuropathy)

3. Stroke

Visualization of how a hemorrhagic stroke, which may occur due to chronic high BP, looks like.
Image by brgfx on Freepik

Chronic hypertension causes the arteries in the brain to weaken or get blocked, increasing your risk of a stroke. 

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel providing oxygen and nutrients to the brain gets narrowed or blocked by a clot.

4. Angina

The damage caused to the coronary arteries due to hypertension may not immediately lead to a heart attack. However, it still may cause pain or discomfort. 

Angina is the chest pain or discomfort when the heart muscles do not get enough oxygen-rich blood.

5. Kidney Disease/Failure

Hypertension is the second leading cause of developing kidney failure. 

Over time, elevated blood pressure causes damage to the arteries around the kidneys. Hence, these damaged arteries cannot supply adequate blood to kidney tissues, causing failure.

6. Sexual Dysfunction

High blood pressure may affect men's and women's sexual lives by reducing blood flow toward the pelvis.

7. Peripheral Artery Disease

A visual representation of peripheral artery disease that can occur due to chronic high BP
Image by brgfx on Freepik

Peripheral artery disease occurs when blood vessels carrying blood to body parts narrow due to plaque build-up. This usually happens in the lower extremities, reducing blood flow to the legs and feet.

8. Heart Failure

It happens when the heart struggles to provide sufficient blood to the body. Factors contributing to heart failure include the thickening or stiffening of heart walls and the narrowing of blood vessels due to high BP.

Hypertension prevention

You can control hypertension by performing this hypertension self-care.

  1. Lose Weight: Losing weight reduces blood pressure in individuals with hypertension.
  2. Healthy Diet: Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
  3. Reduce Dietary Salt Intake (Sodium): The optimal sodium intake goal should be <1,500 mg/day if you suffer from hypertension.
  4. Physical Activity: You should perform at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly.
  5. Moderate Alcohol Intake: Women may need to limit alcohol to one drink a day and men to two drinks per day.

Hypertension diagnosis

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when the blood pressure reading equals or exceeds 130/80 mm Hg, typically based on the average of two or more separate readings. The doctor may ask you to measure your blood pressure at home. 

Blood pressure is categorized into stages to guide treatment:

  • Stage 1 hypertension: Top number between 130-139 mm Hg or bottom number between 80-89 mm Hg.
  • Stage 2 hypertension: Top number 140 mm Hg or higher or bottom number 90 mm Hg or higher.

High BP treatment

High BP treatment often involves lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and stress management. 

Your doctor may also prescribe you medications to control blood pressure. Remember, close monitoring and regular check-ups are essential for effective treatment.

FAQ

What is the difference between hypertension vs hypotension?

Hypertension is high blood pressure, where the force of blood against arteries is consistently high. Hypotension is low blood pressure, where the force of blood against artery walls is too low.

When to see the doctor for high BP?

Suppose you suspect you have high blood pressure. In that case, seeing a doctor promptly for a proper evaluation and diagnosis is advisable. 

Symptoms of high blood pressure may not always be apparent. Hence, regular check-ups are crucial for early detection and management.

Is hypertension reversible?

No, once you develop primary hypertension, you cannot reverse it. 

But you can still manage it by eating the right food and making lifestyle changes. These steps will help you prevent any complications due to hypertension.

What is pregnancy induced hypertension?

Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH), or gestational hypertension, is a condition marked by high blood pressure during pregnancy. It usually develops after the 20th week of gestation and usually resolves after childbirth. PIH can cause complications for both the mother and the baby, so careful monitoring and management are essential.

Can hypertensive patients donate blood?

You can generally donate blood as a hypertensive individual as long as your blood pressure is within the acceptable range at the time of donation. Check with the blood donation centre or healthcare provider for specific guidelines and criteria for your health status.

Conclusion

With about 220 million Indians battling hypertension, understanding and managing high blood pressure is vital. If you suspect hypertension, seek prompt medical evaluation for early detection and effective management.

Managing hypertension can be challenging, but even a little help can make things easier and prevent complications. The Aware Health Rewards app is your companion for tracking and managing BP effectively. We help you track your blood pressure and provide insights about your readings. You will also get daily nudges to become healthier. Download the Aware app today and see the difference.

About the author:

Lucky Mehtani
, B. Pharm, merges his healthcare expertise with a passion for writing to enhance India's heart health. Through insightful blogs, he provides well-researched information on managing Diabetes, Hypertension, and High Cholesterol, aiming to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
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