High blood pressure is unlike any other disease. It can be extremely serious, but normally does not affect how you feel day to day. It is often referred to as "the silent killer"(1), because there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. People with high blood pressure, in most cases, are unaware they have it unless they have their blood pressure measured. This condition in the unaware person may be slowly causing serious damage and putting them at risk of sudden death from stroke or heart disease.
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"Blood pressure"(2) is the force with which your heart pumps blood through the body. Occasional increases in blood pressure levels are not unusual. Examples may include physical activities that make your heartbeat faster and more powerful, and this can raise your blood pressure to meet the added demands of activity. However, if your blood pressure reaches abnormally high levels and stays high, then you could be considered to have high blood pressure (HSP). High blood pressure is also called hypertension. High blood pressure in the simplest terms means the increase of blood pressure due to the malfunctioning of one or several of the organs responsible for maintaining normal blood pressure. This malfunctioning may have many causes: an increased pumping of the blood by the heart; an excess of volume of the blood improperly excreted by the kidney; an excess of hormones able to increase blood pressure; and constriction of the blood vessels.
A high blood pressure that is consistently over the recommended range of 140 Systolic (3), over 80 Diastolic, (140/80) is considered high. The Diastolic number is of the most concern when considering high blood pressure (4).
One blood pressure reading that is high does not mean you have high blood pressure. There are many reasons for pressures to be high at any one time. In the past medical authorities had agreed that at least two elevated blood pressure readings taken on two different days were the basic minimums to make a preliminary diagnosis of high blood pressure or hypertension. More current research indicates that blood pressure may vary over several months. Authorities now recommend that for patients whose diastolic blood pressure is mildly elevated, the diagnosis of "high blood pressure" (5) should be based on at least three blood pressure measurements over a period of several months. This allows doctors to decide if a person needs treatment.
High blood pressure, if untreated for long periods of time, can cause damage to the arteries of the body and to the organs that are supplied with blood by those arteries. It can also lead to pre-mature death. The major organs are the heart, the brain, and the kidneys. First, the heart, which pumps the blood, becomes enlarged and later strained. Second, the arteries themselves become hardened and thickened and this is called hardening of the arteries. Third, the organs at the ends of the arteries can also become damaged by the high blood pressure. Related medical conditions to high blood pressure include: heart failure, kidney failure, poor eyesight, stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), dementia, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and peripheral vascular disease.
While high blood pressure can cause major damage, controlling high blood pressure so it does not remain abnormally high for long periods of time can prevent the damaged.
There is a wide range of drugs that can be prescribed to bring blood pressure down. The aim is to find the particular drug or combination of drugs that can lower ones blood pressure to a safe level (ideally to go below 140/80) to prevent problems. Approximately half of all people with high blood pressure can control it with only one drug, three-fourths can control it with two different drugs and nine out of ten can control it with three different drugs.
The drugs used to treat high blood pressure belong, for the most part, to one of seven different classes: (6)
– Beta Blockers
– Calcium Channel Blockers
– Ace Inhibitors
– Alpha Blockers
– Central Agents
The use of these blood pressure medications can cause side effects that include: sleepiness, impotence, headaches, weak muscles, fatigue, dizziness, frequent urination and many others.
In cases of people who are overweight, treatment can be as simple as losing weight. Altering your diet, reducing the amount of salt and fatty foods, increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat, and sensible drinking can help lower your blood pressure and prevent high blood pressure from developing. Getting regular exercise can lower blood pressure and help control your weight. Giving up cigarettes and managing stress can also lower blood pressures.
Following and maintaining a well-balanced treatment plan will help a person lower their blood pressure and increase their chance for a longer life.
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