Hypertension, or high blood pressure (HBP), is one of the most common medical problems facing Americans, currently affecting 31.9 percent of all non-hospitalized adults over age 20. Known as the “silent killer,” hypertension was responsible for 26,634 deaths in 2010, claiming 8.6 lives per 100,000 people.
Linked mainly to poor diet, genetics, smoking, and stress, the root cause of high blood pressure is actually difficult to determine, remaining unknown in up to 95 percent of cases in the U.S.
Hypertension occurs in varying degrees. Blood pressure is measured in three levels, indicating the severity of a person’s disease: prehypertension, stage 1 high blood pressure, and stage 2 high blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80, and prehypertension is 120-139 over 80-89. When your blood pressure reaches 140-159 over 90-99, you have entered stage 1 hypertension, and should have already sought treatment when it hit the prehypertension levels. Stage 2 hypertension is clearly the more worrisome of the group, when blood pressure reads 160 or more over 100 or greater.
Although hypertension has been attributed to increased anxiety, anger, or daily stress, there is still no research on these connections that has ultimately led to a greater understanding of treating HBP. Samuel J. Mann, M.D., author of Hypertension and You, notes that “Anger, anxiety and day-to-day stress do raise blood pressure in the moment, but with no lasting effect, just as interventions such as biofeedback, relaxation and meditation do lower blood pressure in the moment, but with little persisting effect.” Other doctors, such as Dr. Darya Khan Leghari of the Sir C.J. Institute of Psychiatry in Hyderabad, have recently told us that hypertension “may be attributable to guilt of the past, anxiousness about the present and a bleak future outlook.”
Mixed messages seen in the link between emotional stress and high blood pressure is an indicator that more research is necessary in this area, though there are many clues that mental states can effect blood pressure in the long term. Other major health concerns leading to high blood pressure include obesity, a diet high in sodium, smoking, and lethargy.
Symptoms of Hypertension
Or not. Hypertension earned the title of the “silent killer” as many people are unaware they even have the disease. Nearly one-third of people who have high blood pressure do not know it or experience any symptoms that would clue them in. This is why it is especially important to get your blood pressure measured regularly in preventive exams. Individuals with very high blood pressure, in the stage 2 category, will experience some noticeable and uncomfortable symptoms which indicate the potential of a heart attack or stroke. These include:
- Chest pain
- Breathing problems
- Blood in urine
- Impaired vision
- Severe headache
- Pounding in ears, chest, or neck
As hypertension can lead to strokes, heart attacks, kidney disease, or heart failure, managing the condition is essential to improving your quality of life. Treatment protocol for high blood pressure will vary with each individual, especially if the underlying cause can be defined. If a doctor cannot determine the cause of a person’s HBP, the condition is known as essential hypertension, and is usually treated with medication, instructed to reduce their sodium intake and increase physical activity.
Many people with high blood pressure are told to lose weight, get more active, and control their diet with better nutrients. Diabetes can also contribute to high blood pressure, as hypertension can certainly be a byproduct of type 2 diabetes. Therefore, monitoring and treating your diabetes is essential to avoiding complications with elevated blood pressure.
Those who have HBP due to smoking are encouraged to quit, and those who drink too much alcohol are usually told to cut back to two drinks per day for men, and one drink daily for women, which also varies by individual, and may be even less frequent.
Medications for hypertension range from diuretics to alpha- and beta-blockers, most of which prevent certain chemicals or substances from being over-produced. These also include renin inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (usually used for diabetics), and alpha-antagonists.
A healthy circulatory system depends greatly on exercise and a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. Getting the recommended 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day, five days per week is a common guideline, but can be flexible to fit your schedule as long as you get 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Making sure you eat several fruits and/or vegetables at each meal is also important to reducing high blood pressure, as nearly every kind of produce contains ingredients that regulate blood pressure and contribute to cell health.
How Health Insurance Can Help HBP
Firstly, using your health plan for your free annual exam is the gateway into identifying your disease. If you have coverage, your doctor can help you determine whether your blood pressure is normal, what is causing it to be abnormally high (in certain cases), and how to lower it most effectively. Having a health plan connects you to a strong network of providers to help you manage your condition, and allows you to get healthier and track your progress with medical guidance – without paying a ridiculous sum.
However, hypertension has been one of the top reasons for individual health insurers to deny coverage, exclude benefits, or raise premiums in the past. As a result, most people with HBP are either insured by their employer, a high-risk pool, or a public health plan such as Medicare or Medicaid. In a few months, those who were unable to receive normal healthcare coverage because of their high blood pressure will be able to apply with any health insurance company they choose without rate-ups or any other unpleasantness.
At any rate, if you have such a condition, treating it may be expensive, and coverage is essential in order to keep your blood pressure under control. While you can purchase a blood pressure and heart rate monitor for about $60 on Amazon, having access to a doctor or hospital is important regardless to make sure you take the right steps forward, or are treated for any complications of HBP, such as stroke or heart attack, without having to take out a loan or worry about being in debt to the hospital.
1. WebMD. Causes of High Blood Pressure.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats – Hypertension.
3. Samuel J. Mann, M.D. Huffington Post. Is There a Mind/Body Connection in Hypertension? Part III.
4. The Express Tribune. Hypertension: The Silent Killer.
5. WebMD. Symptoms of High Blood Pressure.
Image by Mkaercher via Wikimedia Commons.