Hypertension is another term for high blood pressure, and it’s a word that a large percentage of the UK population will be very familiar with. It’s thought that around one in four Brits suffers from hypertension – although many will not be aware of their condition. This is worrying because hypertension can raise your risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
Hypertension leads to these kinds of conditions by damaging the arteries, which in turn can lead them to narrow. This gradual narrowing and weakening of the arteries causes problems all over the body, but particularly in the heart, brain and kidneys.
In some cases, high blood pressure can also be a sign of a serious underlying condition such as diabetes; now it looks as though the reverse may also be true. Researchers in Japan have discovered a causal link between hypertension and type 2 diabetes – but it’s not as simple as those with high blood pressure being at risk. According to the findings, people with a family history of hypertension are more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes two years earlier than those with no family history of hypertension.
In a study of 1,299 people – all of whom had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – a total of 702 had a family history of hypertension. It was discovered that, on average, the people in this group had been diagnosed two years earlier than the 597 who had no family history of hypertension. All in all, those most at risk of diabetes were found to be males with a family history of both hypertension and diabetes.
Having discovered this link, the researchers involved advised that clinicians treating patients with a family history of high blood pressure should make them aware of the increased risks, and ensure that they are monitored for other diabetes risk factors such as obesity.
It’s not known yet whether there is a causal link between having hypertension and developing type 2 diabetes, but it is worth noting that taking steps to prevent high blood pressure is widely beneficial for your general health. To find out more, read on.
High blood pressure is not always easy to avoid, particularly if it runs in your family. Two other unpreventable risk factors include your age (your risk increases as you get older), and being of African or Caribbean origin. If you are older, of African or Caribbean origin, and you have a family history of hypertension, it may be wise to speak to your doctor about your risk.
The good news is that many of the other risk factors for hypertension are preventable. They include:
- Eating too much salt
- Not exercising
- Being overweight or obese
- Consuming too much alcohol
- Chronic sleep deprivation
In many cases, altering one or two of these behaviours will assist with the others; for instance, changing to a healthier diet and exercising more can help with weight loss, salt consumption and sleep problems.
Of course, not everyone is able to mitigate their hypertension risk with lifestyle changes alone. That’s why several different types of medication are available.
If you require medication for your high blood pressure, the specific prescription will vary depending upon your age and ethnicity. People under the age of 55 are usually prescribed an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin-2 receptor blocker (ARB). ACE inhibitors work by relaxing your blood vessels; ARBs work in a similar way, and are often prescribed in place of ACE inhibitors if the latter has caused side effects.
If you are over the age of 55, you will probably be prescribed a calcium channel blocker, which works by widening your blood vessels. Calcium channel blockers are also prescribed to people of African and Caribbean origin, no matter what their age.
Other medications for hypertension include diuretics, which can be prescribed as an alternative to calcium channel blockers, and beta-blockers, which make your heart beat more slowly and with less force.
To find out more about high blood pressure, and the kinds of treatments available, visit The Online Clinic’s Hypertension page.