High blood pressure is a very common complaint, and many people have this condition, yet are completely unaware of the fact.
The problem in early diagnosis is often that symptoms do not occur in the majority of instances. This may seem remarkable, but it is a fact of life, and it has been noted from studies carried out in many Western countries. There is a high incidence of high blood pressure in America. But even in the 50-59-years age group, as many as 10 per cent of people examined were found to have high blood pressure, all previously undiagnosed! Their pressures were in excess of 110 diastolic.
This goes to show how a serious disease can insidiously be present in any community, undermining health, and causing serious disorders, with the patient often completely unaware of what is taking place. Frequently it is not until it is too late, and complications have arisen, that the primary cause is identified.
For this reason, high blood pressure is now recognized as a disease of very wide magnitude, and a serious condition demanding early recognition and prompt attention to treatment. There is adequate evidence indicating that suitable treatment of blood pressure will considerably reduce mortality and morbidity from strokes, heart and kidney disease.
High blood pressure usually goes by the clinical name of hypertension. The most common form is termed “essential.” This means that there is no obvious primary cause for its occurrence. Its cause is unknown.
There are several facets worth noting. It seems quite clear there is an inherited predisposition to high blood pressure. If parents are hypertensive, then there is a very real probability of the offspring being similarly affected.
The disease is seen most often in the sixth decade of life. It seems to be more common in women, as opposed to most heart disorders, many of which are essentially a male affliction. However, it seems to be more severe in its course and with its complications in men. It seems to have some racial prejudices; it is less common in Chinese and Negroes in rural environments. However when transferred to a Western-type situation, these people may be affected as severely as their local counterparts.
There are often marked variations in blood pressure during the daily cycle. Any stress, psychological anxieties and tensions, are well known for the temporary hypertensive effect. Usually this is transient, and after the initial aggravating factor has passed, the pressure tends to fall again.
However, as the disease becomes established such variations tend to become more permanent.
It is quite well established that obesity is a definite aggravating factor, and loss of weight can frequently have a favorable effect on a person with a high blood-pressure reading.
High blood pressure is particularly important because of the related effect it has on the blood vessels and the heart itself. With a continual pressure in the arterial system, the heart must work much harder to overcome this pressure each time it beats. Initially this can be accomplished without much effort. But with the continual resistance to each beat, the heart gradually suffers.
The left ventricle, the chamber that pumps blood out into the aorta, wearies of this continual strain. It tends to enlarge, and as this occurs, it gradually weakens and becomes less effective. As this continues, a situation develops in which the heart is unable to process the volume of blood being delivered to it by the system.
Gradually, a condition called heart failure develops, producing its own set of symptoms. This is later characterized by respiratory difficulty, at first more apparent at night when the patient is in the recumbent position, but later at any time. Swelling of the extremities (referred to as edema), and perhaps cardiac pain may be other symptoms.