Hypertension is not a symptom and what really happens in the body when blood pressure rises: WHO experts explain


“Globally, hypertension affects one in three adults, and yet only one in five people's blood pressure is actually controlled. We've actually estimated at WHO that if we can increase control rates globally, we could save 76 million lives by 2050. That's roughly the size of South Africa,” said Taskin Khan, WHO medical officer for cardiovascular diseases.

In a recent episode of WHO's Science in 5, Dr Khan talked about high blood pressure, its symptoms and its effects on the body.

Hypertension is a silent killer”Hypertension is called the 'silent killer' because it is completely symptomless,” he said, adding that it is perfectly alright to suddenly find out that you have high blood pressure. And hypertension leads to fatal conditions like heart attack, stroke, kidney disease but it is completely symptomless.

What exactly happens in our body when we have high blood pressure? Dr Khan explains: Your body has arteries called arteries and these arteries carry oxygenated blood to your organs. When there is high blood pressure, it causes these arteries to thicken or harden or small clots form in them. And these clots actually reach the heart or the brain and cause heart attacks and strokes.

Tips to control blood pressure: Avoid the four S's Dr. Khan suggests seeking medical care if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, visiting the doctor regularly and taking the prescribed medications.

She recommends avoiding the four 'S's:
SmokingSmoking and high blood pressure (hypertension) are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Smoking tobacco releases chemicals into the bloodstream that cause blood vessels to constrict and raise blood pressure. Over time, smoking damages the lining of blood vessels, accelerating the buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) that can block arteries and worsen high blood pressure. Smoking lowers oxygen levels in the blood, causing the heart to work harder to deliver oxygen to tissues, further raising blood pressure. Controlling high blood pressure involves quitting smoking, making lifestyle changes, and taking medications prescribed by healthcare providers to reduce cardiovascular risks.

Salt: Excessive salt intake is linked to high blood pressure (hypertension) because it causes the body to retain water, which increases the volume of blood flowing through the blood vessels. This extra fluid puts extra pressure on the artery walls, raising blood pressure over time. High blood pressure puts pressure on the heart and can damage blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage. Reducing salt intake by avoiding processed foods, limiting added salt in cooking, and choosing low-sodium options can help effectively manage blood pressure levels, along with other healthy lifestyle choices and medical treatments as needed.

SleepLack of adequate sleep or poor sleep quality can contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension) by disrupting the body's natural rhythms and affecting hormone levels. Sleep helps regulate stress hormones such as cortisol, which play a role in blood pressure regulation. Persistent sleep deprivation or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can increase sympathetic nervous system activity, which can increase blood pressure. Inadequate sleep can impair blood vessel function and increase inflammation, which can further increase blood pressure over time. Prioritizing adequate, quality sleep through a regular sleep schedule, creating a sleep-friendly environment, and addressing sleep disorders can help manage blood pressure and promote overall heart health.

TensionStress can significantly affect blood pressure (BP) levels by triggering the body's “fight or flight” response. When stressed, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which temporarily increase heart rate and constrict blood vessels, raising BP. Chronic stress can contribute to long-term hypertension by maintaining high levels of these hormones and increasing inflammation, which can damage blood vessel walls. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and getting support from loved ones or professionals can help reduce its impact on BP and overall heart health. Effective stress management is important for preventing and managing hypertension.

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