Today is World Hypertension Day, and the theme ‘Know Your Numbers’ aims to increase high blood pressure awareness around the world.
Hypertension usually produces no symptoms which means most people don’t even realise they have it. It is estimated that roughly half of adults with hypertension are not aware of their condition.
Experts recommend that everyone should have their blood pressure checked regularly, preferably yearly.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension is high blood pressure.
The heart pumps blood around the body through the blood vessels. Blood pressure is the amount of force exerted on the artery walls by the pumping blood. High blood pressure means that your blood is pumping with more force than normal through your arteries. The added stress on the arteries can speed up the clogging of arteries with fatty plaques (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis contributes to many illnesses, such as heart attack and stroke.
Hypertension is a common disorder of the circulatory system, affecting around one in five New Zealanders and becoming more common with age. Older people may experience a change in their blood pressure pattern due to their arteries becoming more rigid (less elastic).
- There are at least 970 million people worldwide who have elevated blood pressure (hypertension).
- The World Health Organization rates hypertension as one of the most important causes of premature death worldwide and the problem is growing.
- In 2025 it is estimated there will be 1.56 billion adults living with high blood pressure.
- Hypertension is the number 1 cause of stroke and heart failure and the number 2 cause of heart attack.
Hypertension and heart disease
Hypertension impacts on your heart and blood vessels, and is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and the single most important risk factor for stroke.
Know Your Numbers
While hypertension is easy to screen and effective drugs and lifestyle changes are available, around the world roughly half of adults with hypertension are aware of their condition.
It is possible to purchase a home monitor for you to take your own blood pressure, most doctors recommend you start by getting it checked by a health professional. They will be able to give your reading as well as explain what it means, so the first important step is to Know Your Numbers.
As always, prevention is preferable to a cure, and there are ways you may be able to reduce your risk of hypertension. These include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a balanced diet
- Cut back on salt
- Exercise regularly
- Limit alcohol intake
- Monitor your blood pressure - which is what today day is about
If you do have high blood pressure your doctor will advise of the steps to take, but lifestyle factors that reduce blood pressure include:
- Weight reduction
- Regular aerobic exercise
- Low salt diet
- Alcohol restriction
"Clearly, these kind of changes to lifestyle can be very challenging and for many people may not be possible," says Paul Pilowsky, Group Leader of the High Blood Pressure Group here at the Heart Research Institute.
"In these circumstances there may be no other option than to commence medication aimed at reducing blood pressure, particularly if the level of blood pressure is extremely high, or if there is a strong family history of high blood pressure or other cardiovascular risk factors.”
Paul adds that blood pressure elevation is commonly genetic and needs to be managed in the same way as any other disorder.
Hypertension and the Heart Research Institute
The High Blood Pressure Group focuses on the mechanisms that enable the body to deliver oxygen to the right places at the right time. The work includes studying changes in normal people undertaking mild stress, such as eating, or much deeper stress such as patients unwell with cardiovascular disease. Other studies look at links between epilepsy, the heart and blood pressure.
The Vascular Immunology Group aims to understand the causes and progression of pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure in pregnancy and examine the links between high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in women, especially around the time of pregnancy. They have made several major discoveries about the relationship between high blood pressure in pregnancy and risks of heart disease and blood pressure in later life. This will influence the type of advice that is given to women after their pregnancy.