What is Hypertension:
Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure, which occurs when the pressure exerted against your artery walls exceeds the healthy limit. High blood pressure can lead to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, or kidney disease.
Blood pressure is a ratio of systolic to diastolic blood pressure readings. Systolic pressure is read when your heart beats, and diastolic is read when your heart is at rest (between beats). Lower than 120/80 is considered healthy; hypertension occurs at 140/90 or higher. If your blood pressure occurs in a range in between normal and hypertension ranges (for example, 130/85), you may have pre-hypertension.
Hypertension affects about 1 in 3 adults in the US, and about 1 in 4 has pre-hypertension. If you are over the age of 18, regular blood pressure checks are recommended.
Causes of Hypertension:
There is often no single discernible cause for hypertension. Levels of water, sodium, and hormones in the body can affect blood pressure, as well as your kidneys. Additionally, aging can lead to hypertension, since blood vessels stiffen over time.
Pre-hypertension can be an indicator that an individual is at risk for developing high blood pressure.
Types of Hypertension:
Hypertension can be one of two types:
Essential, or primary, hypertension, which is not due to a specific condition or underlying factor. Essential hypertension tends to occur gradually as an individual ages.
Secondary hypertension usually causes higher blood pressure levels than essential hypertension, and occurs more suddenly. It can be attributed to another condition or underlying factor, such as kidney or adrenal problems, congenital blood vessel defects, medications, or illegal drug use.
Risks for Developing Hypertension:
Individuals who exhibit the following are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure:
- Family history of hypertension
- Overweight or obese
- Smoker and/or heavy drinker
- Diet high in sodium
- High stress lifestyle, occupation, or predisposition to anxiety
- African American
- Vitamin D or potassium deficiency
Secondary hypertension can be caused by the following:
- Kidney disease
- Adrenal gland disorders (i.e., Cushing's syndrome, pheochromocytoma)
- Pregnancy (i.e., preeclampsia)
- Over the counter medications, such as diet pills, cold medications, and some migraine medications and birth control pills
- Renal artery stenosis (narrowing of arteries which provide blood flow to the kidneys)
Symptoms of Hypertension:
There are rarely any symptoms of high blood pressure; an individual discovers they have high blood pressure during a routine visit to the doctor. This is why it's important for adults to check their blood pressure regularly (at least once every two years), so they can be aware of any issues as they arise. Blood pressure monitors are available for free checks at many pharmacies.
Call your doctor immediately if you exhibit any of the following symptoms:
- Dizzy spells
- Abnormally frequent nosebleeds
These symptoms could be indicative of malignant hypertension (an extremely serious but rare form of high blood pressure).
Diagnosis of Hypertension:
Because blood pressure levels can vary during the day and over time, you won't be diagnosed with hypertension from just one high blood pressure reading. Several tests done over time will determine more accurately if you do, in fact, have hypertension. You may have your doctor perform these checks, and you can also perform them at home with your own blood pressure monitor.
If your physician determines that you have hypertension, he or she may perform the following:
- Cholesterol testing (to check for high cholesterol)
- Urinalysis, ultrasound, or metabolic testing (to check for kidney function)
- Echocardiogram or electrocardiogram (to check for heart disease)
Treatment for Hypertension:
Pre-hypertension can be alleviated with lifestyle changes, such as:
- Changing your diet to include fiber, water, and potassium
- Limiting sodium intake
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Losing weight (if overweight)
- Exercising for at least 30 minutes each day
- Reducing stress (using yoga, meditation, or breathing techniques)
The above measures can also be used to alleviate hypertension. However, medications are usually prescribed to help reduce persistently high blood pressure.
Additional Resources For Hypertension:
My Pressure Points offers useful information regarding high blood pressure. A site with resources, tips and information specifically for (but not only limited to) African Americans living with high blood pressure.
Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure includes a great deal of information on hypertension detection, prevention, treatment, and women's issues.
Pulmonary Hypertension Association is an online community with information for patients, caregivers, medical professionals; as well as links to support groups and volunteer opportunities.
The DASH Diet Eating Plan DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is the recommended diet for individuals seeking to lower their blood pressure. Recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the American Heart Association; and the Mayo Clinic.