Hypertension: The Smooth Criminal

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By: Ace C. Odulio

“Watch your blood pressure!”

You often hear this phrase uttered during moments of anger or very stressful situations. It’s basically a way of saying, “Calm down. Try to relax for a moment, before your blood pressure increases to a dangerous or unhealthy level.”

Indeed, high blood pressure is notorious as being bad for your heart. But what exactly is this condition and how does it affect the other parts of your body?

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, happens when a person’s blood pressure reads 140/90 or higher on at least two separate occasions.

In a blood pressure reading, the top number represents the systolic pressure or pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. Meanwhile, the bottom number stands for the diastolic pressure or pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is resting between beats. Readings of your blood pressure can easily be taken using blood pressure cuffs or blood pressure monitors.

 

A Silent Killer

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as blood is pumped by the heart throughout your body. So, while the condition is commonly associated with the heart, hypertension negatively affects other parts of your body as well.

According to a 2013 survey by the Philippine Heart Association’s Council on Hypertension, more than one in every four Filipino adults (28%) suffer from high blood pressure – and most of them don’t even know it.

Known as a silent killer, hypertension has no obvious signs since its symptoms can sometimes be attributed to other conditions and diseases. Therefore, it may already be wreaking havoc inside your body without you noticing it.

Artery Damage

“Your blood supplies your organs with oxygen and vital nutrients,” noted Dr. Norberto O. Tuaño, Jr., a cardiologist at De Los Santos Medical Center. “In healthy arteries, blood flows freely through the arteries’ inner lining or lumen. High blood pressure can destroy the cells of this lining and eventually thickens and stiffens the artery walls.” This can lead to increased resistance and blockage of blood flow to your heart, kidneys, brain, arms and legs. As a result, conditions and diseases like chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, stroke, peripheral artery disease (blocked arteries in your legs or arms), eye damage and aneurysms can occur. Essentially, this chain effect of doom originated from your arteries being damaged by an offender known as hypertension.

Heart Damage

As previously mentioned, high blood pressure can damage your heart in a variety of ways. Hypertension forces your heart to work harder than necessary. This causes the left ventricle to thicken or stiffen—thus leaving you with an enlarged and less functional left heart (left ventricular hypertrophy). Moreover, the strain on your heart caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause your heart muscle to weaken and ultimately be at risk for other diseases like coronary artery disease.

Brain Damage

A stroke happens when a part of your brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients due to blocked arteries as a result of increased blood pressure. This causes your brain cells to die. A stroke can cause both temporary and permanent disabilities like loss of muscle movement (paralysis), difficulty talking or swallowing, memory loss and other thinking difficulties.

This silent killer can weaken and damage your brain’s blood vessels, causing them to narrow, rupture or leak (bleed). It can also cause blood clots in the arteries leading to your brain. This can block blood flow and ultimately, trigger a stroke.

Eye Damage

Tiny blood vessels supply blood to your eyes. High blood pressure can damage these vessels in your retina, causing hypertensive retinopathy. This condition can lead to blurred vision, bleeding in the eye and loss of vision.

Kidney Damage

Dr. Tuaño reveals, “Hypertension is a leading cause of kidney disease and kidney failure (end-stage renal disease). It can injure the blood vessels in your kidneys. The filtration and removal of waste from your body through your urine can therefore be very difficult.”

Sexual dysfunction

Since hypertension can limit blood flow, less blood is able to flow to the penis. For some men, this makes it difficult to achieve or maintain erections (erectile dysfunction). Likewise, a woman’s sexual performance can also be affected as high blood pressure reduces blood flow to the vagina. This leads to decreased sexual desire or arousal, vaginal dryness, or difficulty achieving orgasms.

 

Searching for Clues

Risk factors are attributes or characteristics that increase the likelihood of developing a disease. Among the risk factors for hypertension are:

  • Age – The risk of having high blood pressure increases as you get older. Men are prone to this condition as they reach early middle age, around 45 years old. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to develop hypertension after age 65.
  • Family history – High blood pressure tends to be hereditary. Consult with your doctor to double-check if this condition runs in your family.
  • Being overweight or obese – The more body fat you have, the more oxygen and nutrients are needed by your body—both of which are carried by your blood. As the volume of blood circulating through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls.
  • Not being physically active – People who are “couch potatoes” tend to have higher heart rates. The higher the heart rate, the harder your heart must work and the stronger the force on your arteries.
  • Smoking – The chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls.

Although hypertension is most common in adults, children and teens with poor lifestyle habits may also be at risk. An unhealthy diet, obesity and lack of exercise can contribute to having high blood pressure. “The only way to know for sure if your blood pressure is too high is by having regular check-ups,” affirms Dr. Tuaño. “Otherwise, if the condition goes undetected, it may lead to a hypertensive crisis.”

This crisis can either be a hypertensive urgency or a hypertensive emergency. In a hypertensive urgency, your blood pressure spikes to 180/110 or higher. While there is still no damage to your body’s organs, medication is needed to treat it. A hypertensive emergency, meanwhile, happens when hypertension goes untreated. This means that organ damage has already occurred and usually, treatment has to be done in a hospital’s intensive care unit.

Catch this smooth criminal before it strikes—before it’s too late. Have yourself checked for hypertension now and avoid the deadly consequences later.

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Visit De Los Santos Med’s Wellness Center at the ground floor of the hospital’s Medical Arts Building to know more about our HealthForward check-up packages. The specialty clinic is open Mondays to Saturdays, 8AM to 5PM.