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Disease at a Glance: Hypertension

Hypertension is a medical condition where the blood pressure in the arteries is elevated. This requires the heart to work harder than normal to circulate blood through the blood vessels. Prolonged high blood pressure can damage your heart, blood vessels and kidney. But as hypertension has no obvious symptoms, you can have it for years and not know. This is why it is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’.

 

Blood pressure is measured as systolic (when the heart is pumping blood) and diastolic (when the heart is resting between beats). The normal blood pressure for an adult is 120/80. The top number refers to the systolic pressure and the bottom to the diastolic pressure. Any reading outside this range – i.e. systolic higher than 120 and diastolic higher than 80) – is a cause for concern. Opinions vary on which number is more important. But some doctors are of the view that an out-of-normal-range diastolic pressure (or the bottom number) is a greater concern.

 

Common Symptoms

Rarely accompanied by any obvious symptoms
Some patients complain of headaches, dizziness, nosebleed & difficulty sleeping  

 

A single reading may not be conclusive because blood pressure doesn’t always remain constant. It can vary with movement and activity. For example, when you are asleep the blood pressure is lower than when you are awake. This is why doctors typically take several readings before diagnosing a person with hypertension. Apart from oral medication, treatment usually includes lifestyle changes (like exercising regularly, cutting down salt intake, fatty foods & red meat, adding more fibre-rich food to your diet, etc.).

 

References:

1) American Society of Hypertension (www.ash-us.org)
2) National Heart Lung & Blood Institute (www.nhlbi.nih.gov)
3) Hypertension Society of India (www.hsindia.org)

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