By Dr Khushboo Shah Sawant
If we are to talk about understanding the nitty-gritty of blood pressure, one will have to begin with the function of blood in the human body. Blood carries oxygen from the heart to the various parts of the body through blood vessels called as arteries and the term ‘blood pressure’ is the pressure on the walls of the arteries which is put by the heart while pumping blood into them. Every time the heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries. You may have noticed blood pressure measurement having two set digits. They are the systolic and diastolic pressure. When the heart is pumping the blood into the arteries, the pressure is highest. This is known as the systolic pressure. The pressure when blood is not being pumped, or in between heart beats is the lowest, and is known as diastolic pressure. While the blood pressure of a person is known to change during the day, the normal accepted blood pressure is 120/80mmHg. Blood pressure is measured by an instrument known as a ‘sphygmomanometer’. It measures the blood pressure in units called millimeters of mercury (mmHg). It is measured by tying a cuff on the arm, after which the rubber cuff is inflated and blood pressure is checked on the mercury bulb. The newer machines have a digital recording of the blood pressure.
The ideal blood pressure of 120/80 has an acceptable window of + or – of 10mmHg and anything above that is known as ‘high blood pressure’ or hypertension. The lower limit is known as ‘low blood pressure’ or hypotension. The exact cause of hypertension is not known, however there are various factors which contribute as the risk factors, like smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, excessive salt intake, excessive consumption of alcohol, stress, advancing age, family heredity, long standing kidney illness etc. Sometimes hypertension is also caused during pregnancy. Often hypertension shows no symptoms, and so it has been labeled as the ‘silent killer’. A high blood pressure may be discovered only during a routine checkup. If a person experiences any symptoms like, a constant dull headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, trouble seeing normally or feeling pulsations over the neck or the temples then you must get your blood pressure checked, as these may be possible signs of the same. Hence, it is very important for those above the age of 35 years to regularly get their blood pressure checked whether the symptoms are experienced or not. If your blood pressure is found on the higher side, your doctor may advice you to check it more regularly, and if found consistently high, then medical help may be required to deal with it. Hypertension may be caused due to various different reasons, and so the treatment options also vary, some of them are lifestyle modification, quitting smoking, reducing body weight to optimum body weight according to height and lifestyle, exercise, avoiding alcohol, and also reduction of salt intake. Medication also is advised according to different categories. The main types of anti hypertensive treatments include beta blockers, ACE (Angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors, ARB (Angiotensin II receptor blockers), calcium channel blockers etc. Also if the hypertension is caused due to some long standing illness like a kidney disease, the treatment of the underlying conditions will also help.
The main reason why hypertension is often ignored is because is often does not cause any obvious physical symptoms. However if left untreated, hypertension has very serious complications, like a heart disease: Increased blood pressure would mean an extra effort on the heart which may cause heart failure etc, kidney disease: increased blood pressure causes stress on the kidneys which can damage them and cause failure, Hardening of the arteries: increased pressure causes hardening of the inner lining of the arteries, damage to the eyes, Stroke: this is one of the most serious complications of hypertension caused due to increased pressure causing both hardening as well as dilatation of the blood vessels causing stroke.
There are some simple preventive measures that can be taken to keep your blood pressure under control: quit smoking as soon as possible, limiting intake of caffeine, which you can gradually taper off, reducing salt intake and opt for commercially available salt with low sodium content, limit fatty food consumption, avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol, also in case a high cholesterol level is detected then management of the same is also essential. It has been very commonly seen that once medication is advised for hypertension, people take it regularly until they go for the next check up where if the blood pressure is found to be well within the acceptable range then people assume they are cured and stop taking the medication without consulting the doctor. This is a grave mistake and should never ever be committed. Always seek the advice of your doctor before stopping or changing any medications.