High blood pressure has no symptoms, but here’s what exactly happens in the body when blood pressure rises: WHO expert explains

“Hypertension affects one in three adults globally, yet only one in five people have their blood pressure under control. At WHO, we estimate that if we can increase control rates globally, we could save 76 million lives by 2050. That’s about the size of South Africa,” said Taskeen Khan, WHO, Medical Officer, Cardiovascular Diseases.

In the recent episode of WHO’s Science in 5, Dr. Khan spoke about hypertension, its symptoms and how it affects the body.

Hypertension is a silent killer”The reason hypertension is called a ‘silent killer’ is because it is completely asymptomatic,” she said, adding that it is perfectly okay to suddenly find out that you have high blood pressure. And high blood pressure leads to deadly conditions like heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, but is completely asymptomatic.

What exactly happens in our bodies when we have high blood pressure? Dr. Khan explains: There are vessels in your body called arteries, and these arteries carry oxygenated blood to your organs. When hypertension occurs, these arteries become thickened or stiff or have little clots in them. And those clots actually travel to the heart or the brain and cause heart attacks and strokes.

Tips to Control Your Blood Pressure: Avoid the Four S’sDr. Khan advises seeking medical attention, seeing your doctor regularly if you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, and taking your medications as prescribed.

She advises avoiding the four S’s:
Smoking: Smoking and high blood pressure (hypertension) are major risk factors for heart disease. Smoking causes chemicals to be released into the bloodstream, causing blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise. Over time, smoking damages the lining of blood vessels, accelerating the buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis), which can block arteries and increase hypertension. Smoking decreases oxygen levels in the blood, causing the heart to work harder to deliver oxygen to tissues, further increasing blood pressure. Controlling high blood pressure involves quitting smoking, along with lifestyle changes and medications prescribed by health care providers to reduce cardiovascular risks.

Salty: Excessive salt intake is linked to high blood pressure (hypertension) because it causes the body to retain water, which increases the volume of blood circulating through the blood vessels. This extra fluid puts extra pressure on the walls of the arteries, leading to increased blood pressure over time. High blood pressure puts a strain 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 when cooking and choosing low-sodium alternatives can help manage blood pressure effectively, along with other healthy lifestyle choices and medical treatments when needed.

Sleep: Lack of adequate sleep or poor quality sleep can contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension) by disrupting the body’s natural rhythms and affecting hormone levels. Sleep helps regulate stress hormones like cortisol, which play a role in blood pressure regulation. Chronic sleep deprivation or sleep disorders like sleep apnea can lead to increased sympathetic nervous system activity, which increases blood pressure. Inadequate sleep can impair blood vessel function and increase inflammation, further increasing blood pressure over time. Prioritizing adequate, quality sleep through consistent sleep schedules, creating a favorable sleep environment, and addressing sleep disorders can help manage blood pressure and promote overall cardiovascular health.

Tension: Stress can have a significant impact on blood pressure (BP) 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, leading to elevated 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, getting enough sleep, and seeking support from loved ones or professionals can help reduce its impact on BP and overall cardiovascular health. Effective stress management is crucial to preventing and controlling hypertension.

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