Hypertension or high blood pressure is seldom detected early on in the course of the disease because the condition is usually free of symptoms. Hypertension is therefore often called the "silent killer." By time symptoms do arise, it is usually because the blood pressure has become high enough to cause damage to organs such as the kidneys or eyes. In many cases, high blood pressure is detected by chance on a routine visit to the doctor or other healthcare professional for unrelated reasons.
Treatment of hypertension
Several lifestyle factors can be modified to reduce the likelihood of hypertension and its complications developing. Some examples include:
- Cessation of smoking
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet with at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables each day. Diet should be low in saturated fats and transfats but high in polyunsaturated fats and foods containing omega 3 fatty acids such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. Omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial to cardiovascular health. The diet should also be rich in fibre and wholegrains.
- One of the most important dietary changes in the prevention of hypertension is reduction of salt intake. This includes avoiding salty foods such as cured and processed meats or tinned foods that contain salt as a preservative.
- Caffeine consumption also needs to be reduced.
- Physical exercise should be performed regularly, with at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or cycling, performed each day.
- Stress relief techniques such as meditation can be practiced.
- Weight should be reduced in cases of overweight or obesity and a healthy weight then maintained.
There is a wide range of medications that are useful in lowering blood pressure. While some of these are diuretics, which increase urine output and decrease blood volume, others relax the heart and smooth muscle of the blood vessels causing them to widen, allowing blood to pass through more easily. This reduces the blood pressure.
Most people begin treatment by taking a single drug for a few weeks and if the blood pressure is not brought under control, the dose may be increased or a drug with a different mechanism of action may be added to the treatment regimen. In some patients, drugs for hypertension may be stopped after a few months or years of treatment if the blood pressure is brought under control, but in most cases, the medications need to be continued for life.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc