20 October 2016
Stress and bad lifestyle habits can lead to abnormal blood pressure, which will in turn cause many other problems. Photo: Bloomberg
Stress and bad lifestyle habits can lead to abnormal blood pressure, which will in turn cause many other problems. Photo: Bloomberg

Hypertension: What can you do about it?

Mr Kim, 45, is a banker who does not smoke and follows a balanced diet in general. However, given the nature of his job, he often finds his routine disturbed as he has to attend business dinners in the evenings after work.

In recent months, Kim started having some problems due to lack of enough sleep. Among the issues, his eyesight began failing two months ago.

A hospital check-up revealed that Kim was suffering from high eye pressure. His blood pressure also gave very unsatisfactory readings of 220/120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), meaning that he needs medication for putting it under control.

There are a few factors that contributed to Kim’s condition. First, he is a stout man with a family history of hypertension. Next, he had to put up with some stress recently as he moved to a new home and had to take care of many things. On top of that, he also faced some work-related tension.

All these factors induced anxiety and resulted in the banker not getting much sleep, making him fall ill.

Now, what is blood pressure exactly? How should we interpret blood pressure readings?

Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers, which are measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

The systolic pressure (higher number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, while the diastolic pressure (lower number) is the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

According to the definition by World Health Organization, normal adult blood pressure should be at 120/80 mmHg, where the former reading is systolic pressure while the latter is diastolic figure.

When systolic blood pressure is equal to or above 140 mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure equal to or above 90 mmHg, the blood pressure is considered to be raised or high.

Generally speaking, people are more at risk if they older, overweight or obese; have poor lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking and lack of exercise; take in too much salt in diet; or suffer constant stress.

According to Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority, almost 50 percent of elderly and 20-30 percent of middle-aged people in the city are suffering from hypertension.

Hypertension can be categorized into two types, primary and secondary, where the former accounts for 90 percent of the total cases.

Kim’s case is identified as primary hypertension, which is related to heredity, personality, mental stress and obesity.

Meanwhile, secondary hypertension is mainly caused by other illnesses or change in health conditions like renal disease and endocrine disorder. In these cases, the blood pressure problem can be resolved if the illnesses are treated.

Since there are no obvious symptoms for hypertension, it is advised that blood pressure should be measured at least once a year for early detection.

Untreated hypertension over time could put major organs such as the brain, the heart and kidneys under threat due to the higher risk of damage to the blood vessels. Eventually, it might lead to heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, blindness and cognitive impairment.

Kim’s blurred vision was caused by hypertensive retinopathy, which was a result of damage and adaptive changes in the arterial and arteriolar circulation due to the high blood pressure.

Hypertensive patients must have regular consultations with doctors and take the prescribed medicines properly. Improved lifestyle habits can help control the problem.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 8.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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