High blood pressure, also known as hypertension in medical terminology, is often a silent condition that creates severe and dangerous conditions within the body. Yet, while it is often asymptomatic, there are several signs that you may be experiencing high blood pressure.
If you believe you are afflicted with this condition, it is vital to see a physician immediately, as much of the damage caused by high blood pressure can be life threatening. If you have a familial history of hypertension, it may increase your personal risk of experiencing the condition over your lifetime. The sooner you are diagnosed, the better your chances of controlling your blood pressure and keeping your numbers out of the danger zone.
What is High Blood Pressure?
In non-medical terms, high blood pressure happens when the pressure inside your arteries is higher than is healthy. There are two numbers associated with this condition. The top number represents the pressure when your heart is beating, the lower number is the pressure when your heart is at rest.
For most healthy people, a normal blood pressure reading should be 130/80 or less. When these numbers are higher, it means that your heart is exerting excessive force against the walls of your arteries to move the blood inside the body. This kind of excessive force can lead to serious problems, including kidney damage, as well as an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
How Do I Know if I'm at Risk for High Blood Pressure?
There are many factors that determine each individual's risk of developing hypertension in their lifetime. One primary factor will always be your family's history with the condition. The more immediate family members who have high blood pressure, the higher your specific risk is for developing it yourself.
Parents, siblings, and grandparents are the relatives doctors look to first when assessing your likelihood. Still other factors can be controlled by your lifestyle choices. One of the biggest risk factors involved in the development of hypertension is whether or not you smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for high blood pressure outside of the hereditary factors that cannot be controlled. Quitting smoking is the best thing a person can do to reduce their chances of high blood pressure above all else.
Other factors to consider include weight. People with a body mass index (BMI) over 25 have an increased risk of developing hypertension in their lives (3). Losing weight, which means reducing the body mass index number, then reduces the lifetime chance of being diagnosed with high blood pressure as a result. Diet is another big risk factor for hypertensive diagnosis. High sodium diets are known to create favorable chances for hypertension to develop, particularly in at risk populations, such as those with a strong family history, overweight people, and people who smoke.
Taking control of controllable risk factors can make all the difference in the world for people already at risk for high blood pressure development in their lifetime. If that is you, take the time and make the effort to speak with your health care provider about ways to reduce your risk factors and make positive, healthy lifestyle changes moving forward.
It has been demonstrated that certain groups of people are more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, as well some segments of the population are more apt to suffer more severe effects as a result of uncontrolled hypertension. African American people, those who are American Indian/Native American, and those of Asian or Pacific Islander descent are all more likely to eventually develop high blood pressure than other populations. This was a large scale study performed by Kaiser Permanente, which included over 4 million study participants.
This racial/ethnic difference did not seem to be affected by differences in socioeconomic or education levels, indicating the reasons are most likely related to the groups' biological markers. While heart attack and stroke were more often seen among these same groups, the thought is this difference may well be due to lack of options available for treatment and management of hypertension in these groups. It has also been shown in repeated studies that, over the course of a lifetime, men are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with severe hypertension than women, and that is true within all racial and ethnic groups.
When high blood pressure shows symptoms, typically the condition has advanced to a life-threatening stage. One of the first and most common symptoms at that stage is a severe headache. It usually presents as pain in the back of the head, but the pain can be anywhere in the head.
If you get frequent severe headaches, and they often cause feelings of lightheadedness, or confusion, or you feel sharp pulsing within your brain, this could be a sign of a sudden dangerous rise in your blood pressure, indicative of a hypertensive crisis. In these situations, you should immediately seek help, even if you have to go to an emergency room for treatment.
Early intervention can prevent permanent damage in cases of heart attack or stroke during a hypertensive crisis. Don't ignore any unusual severe headache, or headaches that become more intense on a more frequent basis.
You can experience a dozen signs when you suffer from hypertension, or you can have extremely high blood pressure with no symptoms at all at first. But if you have a sudden nose bleed for no apparent reason, you should consider having your blood pressure checked right away.
Doctors are unsure of how the two are connected, but patients presenting in the emergency department with epistaxis (nose bleed) have a higher than average likelihood of being hypertensive, and likewise those with nosebleeds who present with high blood pressure tend to have more difficult to control bleeding requiring more intervention to stanch the flow, such as packing and cauterization.
Given the connection between the two, it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to experiencing unexplainable nose bleeding and have your blood pressure checked right away.
People with high blood pressure do have a higher tendency to crave salt, which ironically can make this condition even worse over time. Sodium is known to raise blood pressure and therefore any cravings you experience for salty and savory snacks should be resisted wholeheartedly.
If you are not sure what your blood pressure reading is currently and you're finding yourself with a preference for salty foods, there is a good chance that you may have high blood pressure.
In a study of adults in Brazil (1), participants with high blood pressure chose breads dusted with a high concentration of salt twice as often as those in the study with normal blood pressure readings. The American Society for Hypertension reviewed the findings and believe they may help develop better treatments in the future, since 1 in every 3 Americans now have hypertension.
Frequent Nighttime Urination
Some studies have demonstrated that those with frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom to urinate, called nocturia, may indeed have high blood pressure. It's long been established that hypertension damages the kidneys when it is uncontrolled for a long period of time. This finding just shows that there is a strong connection between the function of the kidneys and hypertension. An individual who is waking up more than twice in a single night to urinate should take the issue to their doctor for review, since the sooner high blood pressure is discovered, the more successfully the condition should respond to treatment. The longer hypertension remains out of control, the more substantial the risk of long-term and permanent damage to the body as a whole.
One well known sign of possible hypertension is blurred vision. Often it occurs suddenly, though sometimes it develops slowly over time. This is because before you experience any symptoms, high blood pressure is damaging your body a little at a time for years before you suspect anything is happening. Hypertension often damages the tiny blood vessels within the eye, which can damage the retina and your optic nerve. When this damage happens, it can cause minor blood leakage into the eye, which can worsen over time, causing blurring that doesn't go away with rest or time. Always have sudden vision changes investigated by your doctor or an ophthamologist right away.
Feeling Like the Heart is Pounding in the Chest and Head
If you have not been doing any vigorous exercising and you suddenly feel your heart "pounding," whether in your chest, your neck, or in your head, this could be a strong indicator of excessive blood pressure. It's caused by the force of the blood being pumped through your body and means that your heart is under stress. It could also feel like a pulsing sensation, which often you can see through your shirt or the skin of your neck near a blood vessel.
Anytime the heart is forced to work overtime, you should immediately have the situation looked over by your doctor. Also, you should avoid consuming anything stimulating, such as caffeine or energy drinks, as they can make the pounding even worse while increasing your blood pressure immediately.
It is a possibility, researchers at the University of Arizona say (2). This is why many times people with frequent trouble getting a good night's sleep have a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and even death from heart attack and stroke. Obviously there are many reasons why someone may not always get enough sleep on any given night. But if you are regularly getting less than 6 hours worth of sleep on most nights of the week, it is crucial to have the cause of this improper sleep evaluated by your doctor.
If it is, in fact, discovered that you suffer from high blood pressure, it's better to know sooner rather than later so that you can be started on an effective early protocol to lower your numbers to a healthy, safe level. Never ignore the lack of sleep if it happens on more nights than not.
Another potential symptom of high blood pressure is hematuria (blood in the urine). It's a well known complication of hypertension, damage to the kidneys, and presenting with blood in the urine is often enough for a doctor to immediately check your blood pressure in case the blood is a result of the kidneys being overworked.
Obviously, showing with blood in the urine can also mean more common causes, such as kidney stones, urinary tract infections, or prostate issues in men, yet if present with accompanying signs, such as fatigue or headache, blood pressure should be considered quickly in case the numbers are elevated and need to be brought back to normal levels right away. No matter the situation, if you notice blood when you urinate, call your health care provider as soon as possible to have the cause investigated.
Hypertension during pregnancy, when it was not present prior to conception, is known as Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH), and when it presents with protein in the urine during a routine obstetrical appointment, it is then called pre-eclampsia, a potentially life threatening complication for both mother and baby.
Fortunately it happens almost exclusively after the viability of a pregnancy, after 20 weeks, and it generally manageable with careful monitoring and medications. Traditional antihypertensives given to patients with high blood pressure can be extremely dangerous to a pregnant woman, and some are known to cause fetal death.
Therefore it is critical to follow the pre-eclampsia protocol set out by your obstetrician, in order to keep yourself and your unborn child safe until the pregnancy is far enough along to give birth to a healthy, full term newborn. Diet and exercise are also encouraged, though always listen to your doctor regarding any limits you may individually need to follow while pregnant.
What Can I Do To Prevent Developing High Blood Pressure?
You can't change your family history or the hereditary factor for the disease. However, there are many lifestyle changes each person can make to reduce hypertension risk, and improve overall health for a lifetime. Some are obvious. Stop smoking, immediately. This is the single greatest factor in non-hereditary hypertensive risk. If you are overweight, losing as little as 10% of your body weight can have a significant impact on lowering your lifetime risks of developing high blood pressure.
Dietary changes can also play a strong role in reducing your risks of hypertension, as well as controlling hypertension after diagnosis. Eliminate added salt from your diet and steer clear of highly processed foods, as well as fast food offerings. Aim for fruits, vegetables and whole grains whenever possible. If you must eat out, opt for salads with dressing on the side, and stay away from soda, including diet selections, as artificial sweeteners offer no nutritious value. Drink plenty of clean water to aid in proper kidney function.
Pay attention to your body and all the signs it presents to you. High blood pressure can be an extremely dangerous condition, yet we have many ways to manage it for a healthy life. If your doctor prescribes anti-hypertensive medication, always take it as prescribed. Watch for unpleasant side effects and report any to your doctor right away. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to find the proper regime for a lifetime of healthy blood pressure management. But take this seriously and do not neglect your health. Even when hypertension is silent, it is no less deadly when left untreated and uncontrolled.
With a few precautions and common sense lifestyle changes, high blood pressure does not have to be a life threatening disease. Always tell your doctor if you experience any of these concerning symptoms of hypertension. It is up to you to be your own advocate for good health. Following a few simple guidelines can keep you on the path of good health and prosperity for the rest of your lifetime.