Medical providers like you are well aware that approximately 103 million Americans have hypertension according to the American Heart Association. In other words, nearly half of the U.S. population has high blood pressure and is at risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and other hypertension-related illnesses.
As a healthcare provider, it is critical that you educate patients that have this condition so they can learn how to self-manage their symptoms and make healthy changes to their lifestyle.
What is self-management for hypertension?
Self-management occurs when patients that have chronic diseases feel empowered to monitor their condition and make decisions regarding their own care. Effective chronic disease management of any kind can only occur when the individual has the necessary knowledge to take care of themselves on a day-to-day basis—and the support of their care team, friends, and family to help them along their self-management journey.
When it comes to self-management for hypertension, an individual’s ability to do their own blood pressure monitoring and determine next steps based on their numbers is key.
What happens if patients don’t self-manage their condition?
Like many heart-related conditions, hypertension can be accompanied by additional health problems and comorbidities—some of which end up costing the patient a lot in healthcare expenses.
Poor health outcomes
If hypertension patients don’t learn how to control their high blood pressure, they are more likely to develop a life-threatening complication down the line. Treatment and lifestyle changes are crucial in helping patients self-manage their condition.
Damage to arteries
The inner lining of healthy arteries is smooth, so that blood flows freely and both nutrients and oxygen can make their way to vital organs and tissues.
Over time, hypertension increases the pressure of blood flow through the arteries. This can result in:
- Damaged and narrowed arteries. High blood pressure can damage the cells that are found in the inner lining of the arteries. When a patient eats something high in fat, those fats eventually enter the bloodstream. These fatty deposits can collect along the damaged arteries, causing blockages and limiting the blood flow throughout the body.
- Aneurysm. An aneurysm is a bulge that forms when the constant pressure from blood moving through someone’s weakened artery causes a section of that artery wall to enlarge. Aneurysms can rupture and ultimately cause life-threatening internal bleeding. While aneurysms can form in any artery, they are most common in the aorta—the largest artery in the body.
Damage to the heart
High blood pressure can cause several problems for the heart, including:
- Coronary artery disease. Blood pressure can cause arteries to become narrowed or damaged, which makes it more difficult to supply blood to the heart. When blood can’t flow freely to the heart, it can cause chest pain (angina), irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or a heart attack.
- Enlarged left heart. When a patient has high blood pressure, the heart is working harder to pump blood to the rest of the body. This causes the left ventricle to thicken and increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and even sudden cardiac death.
- Heart failure. The constant strain that high blood pressure puts on the heart can cause the heart muscle to weaken and work less efficiently. Eventually, an overwhelmed heart begins to fail. Failure is further expedited by the damage caused during a heart attack.
Damage to the brain
The brain needs a nourishing blood supply to operate as it should. High blood pressure can cause many problems, including:
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is a temporary blockage of blood supply to the brain caused by hardened arteries or blood clots that occur as a result of high blood pressure. Also known as a “ministroke,” a TIA is a warning sign that a patient is at risk of a full-blown stroke.
- Stroke. High blood pressure can cause blood clots in arteries leading to the brain, cutting off the blood supply and subsequently causing a stroke. When this happens, some of the brain’s cells die because a part of the brain has been deprived of much-needed oxygen and nutrients.
- Dementia. Narrowed or blocked arteries can cause limited blood flow to the brain, which leads to a type of dementia called vascular dementia. Vascular dementia can also be caused by a stroke that interrupts blood flow to the brain.
Damage to the kidneys
The kidneys’ main job is to filter excess fluid and waste from the blood. This process requires healthy blood vessels, which means kidney damage can more easily occur in people with conditions like hypertension and diabetes.
One kidney problem caused by high blood pressure is glomerulosclerosis, also known as kidney scarring. Scarring occurs when tiny blood vessels within the kidney become scarred and can therefore no longer filter fluid and waste from the blood properly. This can lead to kidney failure—which, in turn, eventually leads to the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Damage to the eyes
High blood pressure can damage the minuscule, delicate blood vessels that supply blood to the eyes. This can cause retinopathy (damage to the retina), choroidopathy (fluid buildup under the retina), and optic neuropathy (nerve damage). These conditions can lead to bleeding in the eyes and varied degrees of distorted vision and vision loss.
Development of comorbidities
Comorbidities are the presence of one or more diseases or conditions in one person at the same time. There are a few comorbidities that often accompany hypertension and require their own unique, holistic approach when putting together a full care plan.
Cardiovascular diseases—hypertension and diabetes, in particular—are commonly associated with obesity. Obese individuals are 3.5 times more likely to develop hypertension. Seeing as extra body weight and high blood pressure can both put strain on the heart, medical providers should help patients with these conditions implement healthy lifestyle changes in order to protect their heart and live a long, happy life.
Lipids, or fats, are important for cell function—but abnormal levels of lipids in the blood can cause high cholesterol (also called dyslipidemia). High cholesterol puts people at a higher risk of having a heart attack or developing heart disease during their lifetime.
Impaired fasting glucose
Impaired fasting glucose (IFG) is a common glycemic condition that often leads to diabetes and is commonly diagnosed in patients who also have hypertension. One study of patients with hypertension found that 43 percent also had IFG—which means that these patients are at a higher risk of IFG and, ultimately, diabetes. Care teams should take these factors into consideration when treating patients.
High cost of care
Healthcare costs associated with hypertension account for about $131 billion, and individuals with the condition spend approximately $2,000 more on healthcare expenses annually than those who do not have this condition. Compared to other preventative services, it is estimated that appropriate treatment of hypertension would prevent the largest number of deaths in the United States.
This would help healthcare providers save lives and significantly lower costs within their facilities. By educating patients about hypertension self-management, not only can you improve their health—you can reduce costs across the board, too.
How can I help patients self-manage?
Because hypertension is a chronic disease, the best way to treat it is by encouraging patients to make healthy lifestyle changes in order to mitigate the damage that can happen in their arteries and heart. Self-management education is a great way to empower your patients to take charge of their own well-being.
Use CDC tools and training
The CDC provides valuable guidance and resources for public health practitioners to improve their chronic disease prevention efforts. Clinicians, health care systems, public health practitioners, and individuals can all use these strategies to improve blood pressure control as well as health outcomes for patients with hypertension.
Digitize hypertension care to simplify patient management and communication
As you have learned, hypertension can lead to serious health complications, including heart disease. Fortunately, through positive lifestyle changes and medication, you can help patients manage their condition and give them a normal life.
Managing hypertension takes a lot of active check-ins and communication, and some people won’t have the time or ability to walk into your physical facility. Care Management software can help care teams seamlessly manage patients to effectively prevent hypertension complications. Health-focused technology makes it more convenient for care teams to check in with patients and vice versa—via telehealth platforms, texts, and beyond—in order to increase positive outcomes.
Automate tasks so patients get important reminders—without placing an extra burden on staff
People are more likely to stay motivated to manage their disease when they have the right support. Help your patients define realistic goals and stay on top of their daily lifestyle changes through seamless communication and patient profile visibility. Automate communication between check-ins and appointments so you can stay connected with them through continuous encouragement and education.
How can you improve your hypertension treatment protocols?
Now that you better understand the potential risks that patients with hypertension face and how to help them navigate their self-management plans, it is time to put the tools and advice that we have outlined into practice.
As a healthcare provider, a huge part of treating hypertension is implementing preventative measures for at-risk patients, and helping patients who have already been diagnosed mitigate further damage. With communication, education, and the right care, you can help all of your patients live a healthier, happier life.
Are you curious about where there might be gaps in patient relationship management at your healthcare organization? Download our FREE 5 Questions to Diagnose if Your Patient Relationship Management is Working ebook today so you can learn how to improve your internal systems and better help patients!