Over the last few years, high blood pressure or hypertension has been a silent killer for millions across the globe. The deadly condition leads to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney damage, and other health problems if left untreated for a long time. In its first-ever report, the World Health Organisation shared that four out of five people with hypertension are not adequately treated worldwide. This is a significant reason why the global health body estimates that 76 million deaths could be averted by 2050 if hypertension was effectively controlled in all countries.
The leading cause of high blood pressure is narrowed and damaged arteries (atherosclerosis). This leads to the build-up of plaque, which causes the artery walls to stiffen, restricting or blocking the flow of blood and leading to heart disease or stroke. High blood pressure can also lead to the formation of an enlarged heart chamber (hypertrophy). This causes the wall of the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle) to thicken, decreasing the ability to pump blood. This can lead to a heart attack, stroke, and arrhythmias.
High blood pressure can also affect the kidneys, causing them to lose their elasticity and enlarge. This reduces the kidneys’ ability to remove waste and excess fluid from the blood, which can increase the risk of a protein build-up in the urine, known as ‘proteinuria.’
If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to kidney failure – where the kidneys stop working, and the body cannot get the nutrients it needs. This can lead to many health problems, such as tiredness, loss of appetite, and muscle cramps.
Kidney failure can also be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure and can be treated with ACE inhibitors. Eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and limiting salt intake are also essential.
The good news is that high blood pressure is preventable, and many steps you can take to lower it are simple: check your blood pressure regularly. Ask your GP or practice nurse to help you with this, and aim to keep it below 130/80.
To do this, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, limit salt intake, drink alcohol in moderation, and exercise regularly. Managing your stress levels can also help. Try relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, or tai chi.