Blood pressure is the force created by the heart pump to move blood around the body. Blood carries nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body. High blood pressure, or hypertension, refers to a condition in which the blood is pumped around the body at a higher pressure.
According to the Singapore National Health Survey (1998), 27.3% of Singaporeans between the ages of 30 and 69 years, suffer from hypertension. It is one of the major risk factors for coronary artery disease and stroke. Untreated hypertension can also cause heart failure and renal failure. Hypertension is the most important risk factor for development of intracerebral bleed.
In general, blood pressure fluctuates with the time of day, physical activity and emotions. Therefore, blood pressure has to be taken under resting conditions and on more than one occasion. Normally, your blood pressure will increase if:
Your blood pressure can be elevated by alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity. You can reduce your risk of getting high blood pressure by keeping your body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 22.9 (see below table).
Hypertension usually causes no symptoms, but often leads to the damage of various body organs in the long-term. It is for this reason that high blood pressure or hypertension is referred to as “the silent killer”. Over time, it can lead to damage of the heart and blood vessels, leading to stroke, heart attack or renal failure. Occasionally, when the blood pressure is extremely high, headaches, dizziness or alterations in vision can be experienced.
Older people are at a higher risk of developing hypertension. Most of the patients are found to have no cause for the high blood pressure and are categorised as essential hypertension. About 10% of high blood pressure patients have it as a result of kidney diseases or hormonal disorders (secondary hypertension).
A blood pressure reading of 120/80mmHg is read as “120 over 80 millimetres of mercury”. The top number is your systolic pressure, which is the pressure in your arteries when the heart pumps. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure, which is the blood pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes between contractions.
Normal blood pressure may vary from 90/60mmHg to 120/80mmHg in a young healthy woman. Hypertension is present when a person’s blood pressure is persistently above 140/90mmHg. If you have diabetes or kidney disease, you must strive to maintain your blood pressure at around 120/80mmHg as even marginally higher blood pressure will increase your risk of developing complications.
In most cases, a doctor will use a familiar device called a sphygmomanometer. Some blood pressure testing devices use electronic instruments with digital readouts. In these cases, the blood pressure reading appears on a small screen.
Blood pressure measurements can also be carried out at the convenience of your home. Before you use the equipment, you should first understand the given instructions thoroughly on how to use the device and take readings. You may wish to calibrate your reading with your family doctor. Blood pressure devices are readily available at various healthcare outlets and pharmacies.
You should check your blood pressure at least once a year. Marginally elevated blood pressure may normalise when you lose weight, exercise more and reduce salt intake.
If these measures are not successful, then drug treatment maybe needed. However, once medicine has been started, it is essential to continue with the treatment, complemented by a healthy lifestyle. Treatment of hypertension for most people is life-long.