Guide To Hypertension
What Is Blood Pressure?
|What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Strangely, even after decades of research doctors are still not able to say what causes high blood pressure (hypertension) in most patients. 90 to 95 percent of patients with hypertension have essential or primary hypertension which means there is no obvious cause. The remaining 5 to 10 percent of patients have what is called secondary hypertension. This means their high blood pressure is a side effect of another condition such as kidney disease, adrenal gland issues or pregnancy. Fortunately, even if we don't know the cause of hypertension, we do know the risk factors and are comforted by the fact there are many treatments available which can reduce the risk of it causing serious damage. Most people with high blood pressure (bp) will find that it creeped up quietly over the years (remember there are rarely any signs of hypertension to give the game away). When they were younger, they may have had a healthy blood pressure reading - that is 120/80 mm Hg or less. In their 30s or early 40s it might have creeped over 120/80 but still remained under 140/90, this is known as prehypertension (it used to be called high normal). Almost one third of American adults have prehypertension, many of whom will go onto develop full blown hypertension (over 140/90) requiring blood pressure drugs unless they halt the progress of their condition with lifestyle changes (see hypertension prevention). Recent research shows that even at the prehypertension stage your risk of dying from heart disease is at least double that of a healthy person.
What Makes Me More Likely To Suffer From Hypertension?
Genetics And Family Genes
If you have a family history of high bp - that is, if a parent or sibling receives a hypertension diagnosis - this doubles your chance of also developing it.
African American women over the age of 40 are twice as likely to develop hypertension as white women of the same age. The rate is also high among American Filipino women but lower in those of Hispanic and Chinese descent.
Obesity in women: Women who are obese, that is those who are 20 percent over the ideal weight for their height, are 4 times more likely to develop high bp than women of a healthy weight. The risk is even higher for obese white women, who are 8 times more likely to develop hypertension and 10 times more likely to have heart disease than other women.
The relationship between diabetes and high bp is complex - women with diabetes are more likely to develop hypertension, but hypertension also increases their risk of developing diabetic complications. Women with hypertension and type 2 diabetes also tend to suffer obesity and have high levels of blood fat. This raises their risk factors for heart disease and chance of developing atherosclerosis.
While smoking does not cause continuous high bp, it does raise levels for about 30 minutes after smoking a cigarette. If you smoke a packet a day, that means your levels are raised for 10 hours. This eventually damages the lining of the artery walls making them more prone to developing plaques and fatty deposits (raising your stroke risk factors and heart attack risk factors). Once hypertension has set in, smoking increases your chance of developing serious complications such as kidney failure.
Excess Sodium (Salt)
It seems that some people are more sensitive to dietary salt than others. In healthy people the body manages to regulate its level of salt concentration by excreting any excess through the urine. In salt sensitive people, their system does not work efficiently and eating too much salt ends up raising their blood pressure. Nearly 50 percent of all people with hypertension are salt-sensitive. This is why reducing salt is in the diet is an essential part of any treatment for high blood pressure.
Although stress does not cause high bp it can keep levels raised. The link between stress and heart disease in women is still not clearly understood. It appears that when we feel stressed for prolonged periods, our blood produces hormones which can overtime damage our arteries and lead to sustaining high bp. Also, when you are under stress, you are more likely to comfort eat, drink more alcohol and be less physically active - all of which can contribute to heart problems. Read more, dangers of stress.
Women who drink in moderation (that is 1 drink a day) have LESS chance of developing hypertension than women who do not drink. However women who drink heavily are in a much higher risk category. If you are worried about your bp rate, ask your doctor to check it for you. Also, consider buying a home blood pressure monitor if you want to check it more often.
When The Cause Is Known
In a small percentage of incidences, the cause of raised bp can be established (secondary hypertension):
Women with kidney disease are more likely to develop hypertension, but in some cases it is not always easy to know if the hypertension is primary or secondary. One could have caused the other.
If a woman has raised bp pressure before pregnancy it often rises during pregnancy. For this reason she will be considered high risk for pregnancy complications and will be closely monitored. Options such as waterbirths or birthing centers are not recommended. With good prenatal care, most will be able to give birth to perfectly healthy babies. If hypertension develops out of the blue after the 20th week, this can be a sign of preeclampsia, a very dangerous life-threatening condition. For more see, will pregnancy raise my blood pressure? and hypertension during pregnancy.
The Contraceptive Pill
The Pill can raise bp in some women which is why your doctor will always test your levels when she gives you a new prescription. Generally women who are over 35, obese and/or smoke are most at risk. For more, see birth control pill and high blood pressure. Also, check our article, is it safe to take the contraceptive pill after 35?