Silent threat: understanding and confronting hypertension

High blood pressure, known medically as hypertension, often goes unnoticed, earning it the reputation of the “silent killer.” However, its effects, when left unchecked, can be catastrophic, affecting various vital organs and overall quality of life.

Dr Sreeram Gopalakrishnan, specialist cardiologist at Aster Clinic, Al Muteena, Deira, says the damage caused by high blood pressure usually occurs gradually over time. However, if not promptly detected and managed, hypertension can wreak havoc on multiple organs, leading to disastrous consequences. “High blood pressure promotes arterial blockages, increasing the risk of heart attack,” he says. “Blood vessels supplying the brain are susceptible to blockage or rupture due to high blood pressure, which could trigger a stroke.”

Dr. Gopalakrishnan adds that when the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood, it leads to enlargement and eventually failure. High blood pressure also damages the blood supply to the kidneys, impairing their ability to filter blood effectively. “Strained and damaged blood vessels in the eyes contribute to impaired vision,” he adds. “Impaired blood flow as a consequence of hypertension can manifest as erectile dysfunction, while prolonged hypertension is associated with cognitive decline, including memory loss and dementia.”

Dr Harish Prabhu, specialist in nephrology at Burjeel Royal Hospital in Al Ain, points out that hypertension is not limited to the heart but affects arteries throughout the body, posing serious risks if left uncontrolled . “Uncontrolled hypertension can precipitate a cascade of complications, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and visual impairment,” says Dr. Prabhu. “Despite its silent nature, the consequences can be fatal if left untreated over a prolonged period of time. »

The profound effect

Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is not just a disease in itself, but also the precursor to a host of serious health problems. Dr Gopalakrishnan highlights the profound impact of prolonged high blood pressure on the delicate vascular system. It states that high blood pressure gradually damages the walls of blood vessels supplying vital organs such as the heart, brain and kidneys. “This damage leads to abnormal thickening and the formation of tiny tears in the vessel walls, creating a breeding ground for plaques composed of cholesterol and unhealthy fats,” says Dr. Gopalakrishnan. “These plaques obstruct blood flow, paving the way for catastrophic events like heart attacks and strokes. »

Dr. Gopalakrishnan emphasizes that timely management of blood pressure is essential to prevent vascular damage and thwart life-threatening diseases.

Dr Rajan Maruthanayagam, a specialist interventional cardiologist at Zulekha Hospital, elucidates the staggering contribution of hypertension to cardiovascular diseases. “Hypertension surpasses other modifiable risk factors like smoking, dyslipidemia and diabetes in terms of prevalence and impact on heart health,” says Dr Maruthanayagam. “For every 20 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure and 10 mmHg increase in diastolic blood pressure, the risk of death from heart disease or stroke doubles.

“Even though only a few patients with apparent primary (essential) hypertension develop progressive kidney disease, the total number of patients with hypertension is so large that even the small percentage at risk constitutes a large part of the burden of renal insufficiency. chronic kidney disease.”

Dr. Maruthanayagam warns that severe, uncontrolled hypertension is a significant risk factor for ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.

Dr. Prabhu explains the symbiotic relationship between hypertension and its complications, including heart disease, stroke, and kidney dysfunction. “Hypertension, especially when associated with diabetes mellitus, significantly increases the risk of these debilitating diseases,” he says. Dr. Prabhu supports a comprehensive approach to blood pressure management, incorporating lifestyle modifications and medications to mitigate the risk of complications and preserve overall health.

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Lifestyle changes

Dr. Gopalakrishnan emphasizes the central role of food choices in blood pressure management. Encouraging individuals to adopt a heart-healthy diet, Dr. Gopalakrishnan promotes the inclusion of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and legumes while limiting saturated fats, sodium, beverages alcohol and added sugars. He supports the importance of reducing salt intake, highlighting its impact on blood pressure regulation.

“Reducing salt intake can help lower blood pressure,” he says. “Most of the sodium in our diet comes from packaged and processed foods and eating these foods less often can help reduce your sodium intake and lower blood pressure.”

Dr. Gopalakrishnan recommends adhering to the American Heart Association’s guidelines, urging individuals to diligently monitor their sodium intake.

Dr Krupal Reddy, a specialist interventional cardiologist at Zulekha Hospital, advocates the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet as a cornerstone of hypertension management. “The DASH diet prioritizes foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, essential nutrients for controlling blood pressure,” says Dr. Reddy.

Dr. Reddy adheres to a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and nuts, while minimizing sodium, fatty meats, high-fat dairy products and sugary drinks. “Foods rich in potassium, such as bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, kidney beans, oranges and spinach, are especially important because potassium helps balance sodium levels in your cells, which is essential to prevent and control high blood pressure,” explains Dr. Reddy.

Additionally, Dr. Reddy recommends getting a regular checkup and engaging in cardiovascular exercises, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, or dancing. “Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity,” he says. “Embrace resistance training that facilitates the preservation of muscle mass, which is beneficial for metabolism and body weight control. »

Dr. Prabhu emphasizes lifestyle modifications beyond dietary adjustments. It highlights the importance of weight loss, smoking cessation, regular exercise, moderate alcohol consumption, stress management and adequate sleep in managing hypertension. Dr Prabhu calls for a holistic approach to health, encompassing physical activity, dietary modifications and stress reduction techniques to achieve optimal blood pressure control.

Regular monitoring

Dr. Gopalakrishnan strongly supports early detection through vigilant blood pressure monitoring. Identifying individuals at high risk, including those with a family history of hypertension, smoking, chronic sleep deprivation, and elevated prior readings, is paramount. “Prompt diagnosis and intervention are crucial to prevent serious complications such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, heart failure and dementia,” he says.

It recommends the integration of home blood pressure monitoring into routine health practices, supplemented by regular visits to the doctor, to mitigate the risks associated with uncontrolled hypertension.

Echoing Dr. Gopalakrishnan’s sentiments, Dr. Prabhu highlights the broader spectrum of individuals at risk for hypertension. The elderly, smokers, obese people, diabetics, sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits are all susceptible.

Dr Prabhu highlights the central role of early detection, lifestyle modifications, pharmacological interventions and regular blood pressure monitoring to avoid hypertension-related complications. “By taking proactive measures and closely monitoring their blood pressure, individuals can exercise control over their cardiovascular health and mitigate the potentially disastrous consequences of untreated hypertension,” he says.