High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for global mortality.
As alarming as that is, know this: By lowering your numbers early on, you can reduce your risk of the devastating consequences of high blood pressure. However, if left untreated, hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure) will increase your risk of heart disease, vascular disease, kidney failure, vision loss, and yes, even death. In fact, each 20-point rise above 115 in the higher number (the systolic number), doubles your risk of death from heart disease or stroke!
- In 2014, hypertension affected nearly one third of all U.S. adults — more than 75 million people — and only half of those were adequately treated. This left the other half at increased risk for all the consequences of hypertension.
- An additional 33% were diagnosed with prehypertension. Prehypertension leads to hypertension if not lowered and, as noted above, doubles the risk of death from heart disease or stroke if the higher number is more than 135.
- But, the most devastating statistic is this: Hypertension was either a primary or a contributory cause of death for more than 410,000 Americans in 2014—that’s more than 1,100 deaths each day. And the numbers continue to climb. It is tragic that these statistics reflect preventable human losses.
Moreover, hypertension not only affects adults but also our youth — in part related to the increase of childhood obesity and physical inactivity. Though this article focuses on adult hypertension, it is important to remember that the risk factors and the consequences for children and adults are similar.
How is hypertension diagnosed?
Since most people have no symptoms of early hypertension, the diagnosis is usually made when checking your blood pressure (BP) during a routine screening. When first detected, standard practice is to remeasure the BP at least twice in both arms, pausing between the readings. Measure it again on one or two occasions before making the diagnosis. If one arm reads higher than the other, use the higher number. BP will vary throughout the day, but BP that is consistently higher than normal, i.e., more than 120/80, requires treatment.
What happens in hypertension?
First, a quick look at normal blood pressure
Normally, your healthy heart contracts at regular intervals to pump just the right amount of blood through your smooth open arteries. Working in tandem with your heart, your arteries expand and contract to regulate the blood pressure needed to deliver oxygen and nutrients to all your cells and organs. The range for normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 but more than 90/60.
Now a look at what happens in hypertension
Hypertension damages and roughens the linings of your arteries. This allows plaque particles to latch onto the rough areas and create partial or complete blockages. That leaves you with narrow brittle channels unable to expand or contract normally. These changes force your heart to work harder to pump blood out against higher pressures.
You are now a set-up for other diseases: heart failure, i.e., the failure of the heart to pump out adequate blood; a heart attack from a blocked artery in your heart; or a stroke from a blocked or ruptured artery in your brain. The fact is that all your body systems are at risk for disease from the diminished supply of nutrients and oxygen delivered through damaged arteries.
To read much more about the effects of hypertension on your arteries, heart, brain, eyes, and kidneys, check out the Mayo Clinic’s High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension’s effects on your body.
How did I get hypertension?
In adults, about 10% of hypertension is related to a gland or an organ (e.g., kidney, adrenal, or thyroid) that is, in some way, diseased. This is called secondary hypertension.
In the other 90%, the precise cause is not known. This is called essential or primary hypertension. Though the exact cause is unknown, it is known to be associated with certain risk factors — some you cannot change and many more you can change.
In children, these percentages are reversed, with more than 90% due to a secondary disease.
Risk factors you cannot change
Hypertension risk factors you cannot change include pregnancy and certain chronic conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea. Other risk factors you cannot change include:
- aging (men over 45, women over 65);
- race (blacks more often and with more serious complications than other races); and
- family history (more than twice as often when both parents are hypertensive).
Risk factors you can change or modify
If you have risk factors you cannot change, it is especially important to know the risk factors you can change. That knowledge gives you the power to lower not only your blood pressure but also your risks for its related diseases. You’ll learn more about the how-to in High Blood Pressure Part 2: Lowering your blood pressure
As you look at these hypertension risk factors you can change — known as unhealthy lifestyle factors — be thinking about which ones might apply to you.
- Being overweight or obese — especially abdominal obesity — is a leading risk factor for hypertension;
- High dietary salt intake, especially when combined with low potassium intake, is a risk factor for high blood pressure;
- Being physically inactive is a leading risk factor for hypertension;
- Drinking more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day for men or 1 alcoholic drink per day for women can lead to hypertension;
- Tobacco products temporarily raise heart rate and blood pressure and, over time, lead to hypertension;
- Sustained high levels of stress, good or bad, increase blood pressure temporarily and, according to many, lead to chronic hypertension; seek stress reducing activities such as prayer or meditation.
What can I do?
If another disease is the cause of your hypertension, your first priority is to treat that disease. At the same time, you must address the risk factors you can change.
Whether from another disease or from known or suspected risk factors, be a life saver, take control. Lose that excess weight, increase your physical activity, reduce salt and alcohol intake, quit all tobacco products, and lower your stress. Each of these changes will lower your BP and reduce your risk of diseases related to hypertension.
If you require prescribed medications to lower your BP (known as antihypertensives), work closely with your healthcare provider to determine the best medicines and dosages for you. Take your medicine as ordered, keep track of their effects, and report any side effects. As your lifestyle changes take hold, communicate frequently with your provider — you may be able to reduce, or even eliminate, your antihypertensive medicines.
And now a look at how God’s Word can sustain you as you seek to change the course of this disease.
Reflecting on God’s Word
You’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure. It’s life-threatening consequences, if left untreated, are difficult to make sense of — especially if you feel perfectly well.
Do not be anxious, do not give up hope. But do not ignore the course of the disease. Take action. The Lord offers you His help. In Philippians 4:6–7, NKJV, Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Every instruction in these verses can help lower your blood pressure:
- “Do not be anxious” — anxiety raises your heart rate and blood pressure — and it devalues the power of God;
- “By prayer” — as you speak to God about your needs and desires, you lower your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure;
- “and supplication” — forming a request to God helps you identify the outcome you desire and lowers your generalized anxiety;
- “with Thanksgiving” — gratitude creates optimism and peace, both incompatible with anxiety;
- “let your requests be known to God” — when, in prayer and supplication, you hand it over to God, He will, as the next verse promises, provide for your well-being;
- “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
We can ask for nothing greater than this.
What you’ve learned
You’ve learned important facts about hypertension: what it is, how it happens, and why it’s so important to take immediate action to lower your numbers. This involves lifestyle changes, perhaps one or more prescribed medications, and prayer. By doing everything you can to lower your blood pressure early on in its course, you can lower your risks for heart attack and stroke, as well as for other cardiovascular diseases, kidney disease, and eye disease. Take charge.
In future posts, I’ll cover the steps you need to take to lower your blood pressure by adopting appropriate lifestyle choices, and I'll cover how to monitor your reponse to those choices.
Let us pray
Dear Heavenly Father,
We’ve read about hypertension and its consequences and we regret every choice we’ve made that contributed to this disease. Please, Father, forgive us and support us as we look to the future.
Remove any anger, despair, or anxiety from our hearts. Fill us with the confidence to establish new habits, lower our blood pressure, and renew our health and well-being.
Fill our hearts and minds with “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding," to sustain us on this steep climb toward wellness. We pray these things in the name of Jesus.
2014 Evidence-Based Guideline for the Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: Report From the Panel Members Appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8) | Feb 05, 2014 | JAMA | JAMA Network. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1791497 An excellent summary of the recommendations for lowering goal blood pressure to less than 140/90 mm Hg.
High blood pressure (hypertension) Risk factors - Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/basics/risk-factors/con–20019580 Excellent synopsis of risk factors for hypertension readily available from numerous sources.
Vitamin D ‘ineffective as treatment for hypertension’ - Medical News Today. (2015, March 19). Retrieved October 6, 2016, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/291143.php Vitamin D supplements do not lower blood pressure according to 2015 study results.
National Prevalence and Associated Risk Factors of Hypertension and Prehypertension Among Vietnamese Adults. (May 5, 2014). Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://ajh.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/05/25/ajh.hpu092 ↩
High Blood Pressure Fact Sheet|Data & Statistics|DHDSP|CDC. (last updated June 16, 2016). Retrieved August 21, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_bloodpressure.htm Retrieved 08/21/2016 for included statistics. ↩
The Fourth Report on the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2016 from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/114/Supplement_2/555 The most recent government-funded research on hypertension and our youth. ↩
High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension’s effects on your body. (February 18, 2014) Retrieved June 9, 2016 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art–20045868 ↩
Blood pressure change and risk of hypertension associated with parental hypertension: the Johns Hopkins Precursors Study. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2016 from http://www.uptodate.com/contents/genetic-factors-in-the-pathogenesis-of-hypertension/abstract/6 ↩
Obesity Action Coalition » Hypertension and Obesity: How Weight-loss Affects Hypertension. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles–2/obesity-related-diseases/hypertension-and-obesity-how-weight-loss-affects-hypertension ↩
Effect of longer term modest salt reduction on blood pressure: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials. - PubMed - NCBI. (2013, April 3). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=23558162 ↩
High blood pressure (hypertension) - Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/basics/risk-factors/con–20019580www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10333849 ↩
Stress and high blood pressure: What’s the connection? - Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/stress-and-high-blood-pressure/art–20044190?pg=1 ↩