By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
“Baka ma-high blood ka!” is a common line we jokingly say when someone is in a stressful mood, and countless movies and telenovelas have used the sudden strike of a heart attack as the climax to a dramatic scene where blood is boiling between characters, figuratively speaking. There is a grain of truth to these scenes and sayings—hypertension has been called as the “silent killer,” because it has no symptoms, and can strike at anytime, anywhere, and anyone.
You may ask, so if it’s so silent, and it can strike at any moment, what’s the point of getting screened for it? It all boils down to what doctors have countlessly said throughout the years: Prevention is better than cure.
Hypertension, or more commonly known as high blood pressure, is a condition that happens when your heart has to work harder than usual to continue to function. According to britannica.com, “Hypertension occurs when the smaller blood vessels (the arterioles) narrow, causing the blood to exert excessive pressure against the vessel walls, and forcing the heart to work harder to maintain the pressure.” And the thing about hypertension is that it can build up throughout the years, showing no symptoms, until it strikes.
According to Dr. Lynn Gomez, president of the Philippine Society of Hypertension, in an interview given in ANC’s “Early Edition” last March 9, said that around 200,000 deaths a year are recorded to have been because of organ failure, that were brought about by cardiovascular diseases.
What causes it? It could be genetic, so checking in with your family tree will give you an idea if there’s a big risk that it runs in your blood. If your family also has other diseases that come into light that might have been caused by hypertension, it can also be a cause. There is also such a thing called elevated arterial pressure, which is brought about by primarily lifestyle choices—excessive drinking, obesity, a diet high in salty food, smoking, and the like can put you on the hypertensive list quicker than those leading a healthier lifestyle.
Knowing if you have high blood pressure is surprisingly quick, easy, and bloodless. The device that’s used is called a sphygmomanometer, which is that rubber cuff that’s put on your arm (or leg), and inflated like a balloon, or until it gently squeezes your arm, and the gauge attached will be able to tell your blood pressure in a few minutes.
According to the American Heart Association, the normal blood pressure is such:
Under age 60: Systolic less than 140 mm Hg; diastolic less than 90
Ages 60 years and older: Systolic less than 150 mm Hg; diastolic less than 90 mm Hg
But that single measurement doesn’t end there. Anything higher than that would merit more repeated measurements over a few months, because it may change, and there is such a thing as the “white coat effect,” which gets a person agitated seeing a doctor and sends his BP shooting up. Depending on the results and if your BP is consistently high even when your BP is taken at home, it could be that intensive tests to check for causes, any underlying diseases or conditions, or even organ damage due to your hypertension, and to give you a proper diagnosis.
Depending on your diagnosis, the benefits of getting your blood pressure under control are definitely worth it. There’s a nearly 50 percent relative risk reduction in having heart failure, and a 30 percent to 40 percent relative risk reduction in having a stroke. And before grumbling over how expensive it is to go through the preventive treatments, think about how much more expensive it would be to be hospitalized and treated for a heart disease, to get more medicines, or even get a new heart or other organs—now that’s definitely a bill you would wish you didn’t need to pay for.
Once it has been determined that the patient has persistent hypertension, patients with presumed primary hypertension should undergo a relatively limited work-up for secondary causes utilizing information gained from the history, physical examination, and routine laboratory tests.
It is important, however, to be aware of the clinical clues suggesting the possible presence of one of the causes of secondary hypertension, which may indicate the need for a more extensive evaluation.
For laboratory testing, the following tests should be performed on all patients with newly diagnosed hypertension:
- Electrolytes and serum creatinine (to calculate the estimated glomerular filtration rate)
- Fasting glucose
- Electrocardiogram Echocardiography is a more sensitive means of identifying the presence of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) than an electrocardiogram.
The best way to avoid hypertension is to keep track of your medical history and lifestyle. Ask around if any of your family members have had heart problems, or died of complications due to heart failure. Watch what you eat, drink in moderation, and it’s as good a time as any to quit smoking. Give yourself the gift of a healthy heart this holiday season, and your heart will thank you with a long and fruitful life!