NAIROBI, Kenya, May 19 – It’s standard procedure every time you visit your doctor’s office and go through the triage, they check your temperature, your weight and your blood pressure.
The gadget whose cuff they tie round your arm then press on a rubber bulb to tighten is called a sphygmomanometer and the readings they take off the mercury gauge are your systolic and diastolic pressure.
A systolic reading (the pressure as the heart pumps blood around the body) of over 140 mmHg (millimetres of mercury) and/or a diastolic reading (as the heart relaxes and refills with blood) of over 90 mmHg is an indicator that you’re suffering from high blood pressure.
The whole process may seem mundane but it’s used to determine the urgency of medical care required because high blood pressure is serious business and usually asymptomatic.
This is why it’s one of the first things they test for as too high a reading would be an indicator of a hypertensive crisis that warrants immediate medical attention.
It’s also why hypertension is known as the “silent killer,” presenting when the situation is critical; after lengthy period of hushed damage to the cardiovascular system – in non-acute cases.
But what is high blood pressure really? It’s otherwise known as hypertension and a breakdown of that word gives you an indication of what it makes reference to – too high force exerted against the walls of your vessels by the blood flowing inside them, straining them.
It forces your heart to work too hard, weakening it and weakening the walls of your arteries. This is compounded when fats from your diet enter your bloodstream and collect in the damaged arteries making them narrower and hardening them; restricting blood flow. This comes with its own set of complications and puts you in danger of a stroke if your brain is starved of oxygen and nutrients.
Hypertension not only puts you at risk for heart failure, artery or brain damage; it’s also one of the most common causes of kidney failure, and could lead to blindness and even erectile dysfunction.
It also causes loss of bone density as a result of increased calcium in the urine and obstructive sleep apnea – a condition in which your throat muscles relax causing you to snore loudly – occurs in more than half of those with high blood pressure and the more troubled your sleep pattern, the higher you blood pressure goes.
But as they say, forewarned is forearmed and there are certain risk factors you should be on the lookout for where weight, sex, race and age are concerned.
The prevalence of hypertension is higher among the obese and darker-skinned; men generally suffer from hypertension at a younger age than women and a family history of hypertension raises a red flag.
It also cannot be gainsaid that a healthy lifestyle is critical to staving off hypertension given alcohol abuse, weight-gain, tobacco use, stress and a diet poor in potassium and vitamin D – while high in salt and fat – all putting you in the crosshairs.