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High Blood Pressure - the silent killer

Updated: May 16, 2023

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is know as the “silent killer” because most people do not know they have it until something bad happens.

In a hypertensive crisis a blood vessel in the brain may burst resulting in a stroke.

It is normal for blood pressure to rise and fall through out the day in response to activities and it is at it’s lowest during sleep.

Some common causes of high blood pressure include:

Stress: While stress reaction is normal and healthy for the body in response to imminent danger to enable a ‘fight or flight’ response long term, or chronic, stress is not.

When a sudden danger appears the body will, among other things, cause a surge of hormones to be released by the adrenal glands. These include adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline will increase the heart rate, lift the blood pressure and boost energy while cortisol will increase sugar in the bloodstream. Cortisol also stops non essential functions that are not needed in fight or flight mode such as digestion, reproduction.

By keeping the body in a constant state of stress mood will alter, sex drive lowered, blood sugar and pressure levels are raised which can make people at risk of adopting unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol abuse and over eating.

Alcohol abuse: Many studies have concluded that a moderate intake of alcohol, particularly red wine, is good for the heart but excessive use is not.

Smoking including second hand smoke: Part of the smoking problem is nicotine which narrows the arteries, causing blood pressure to increase, hardens the artery walls and increases the heart rate.

Inactivity: People who exercise regularly are less likely to have higher blood pressure than those who do not

Obesity and uncontrolled diabetes are also contributing factors.

Blood pressure is measured in 2 numbers. The top number, systolic, is the pressure exerted on the artery wall as the heart pumps. The low number, diastolic, is the pressure on the artery wall in between pumps and is measured in on a scale of mm/Hg ( the amount of pressure required to push a column of mercury up 1 millimetre)

Signs and symptoms of hypertension may not appear until the problem has reached crisis stage which it is important to monitor blood pressure regularly, particularly as we age.

It is best to have this done by a medical professional but, if using a monitor at home, take it at the same time of day as it will vary. Taking blood pressure directly after taking stimulants such as coffee or smoking will result in a higher reading.

High Blood Pressure

So, what should your blood pressure be? What is normal for you may not be for someone else which is why monitoring by your doctor is recommended.

As a general guide 120/80 is considered “normal” while above 180/110 is considered an emergency.

The advise is to know what is normal for you and maintain it before developing the signs and symptoms of a hypertensive crisis which could include head ache, nose bleed, dizziness and blurred vision.

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