Hypertension

Reviewed: April 05, 2013
By eHealthIQ
Hypertension

Overview and Facts

Hypertension is best known as high blood pressure. It is one of the most common types of cardiovascular diseases and having high blood pressure increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Blood pressure is usually tested during routine checkups with your doctor. The reading appears as two numbers, the first of which is the higher number, which is a measure of systolic pressure. Systolic pressure refers to the pressure created when your heart beats. The second number is the lower number and measures diastolic pressure, or the pressure inside blood vessels when the heart is at rest.

Normal blood pressures starts at about 90/60 at birth and reaches 120/80 in a healthy adult. Although blood pressure typically rises and falls with changes in activities or emotional states, blood pressure of 140/90 taken over at least two occasions is considered to be high. Hypertension treatment would begin immediately if blood pressure readings were 200/120 or higher.

What is blood pressure? 
Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in arteries – blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Too much pressure can be a threat to arteries and lead to serious, life-threatening conditions such as stroke and heart attack.

Signs and Symptoms

Most of the time, there are no symptoms of high blood pressure. That makes hypertension very dangerous, because it is easy to not know that you have high blood pressure. The best way to find out if you have high blood pressure, or if you have low blood pressure, is to get routine blood pressure readings.

If you have extremely high blood pressure, you may experience some of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Vision changes
  • Irregular heartbeat

When untreated, hypertension can cause very serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and heart attack. It is important to get routine check-ups and see a doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms.

Causes and Diagnosis

There are many risk factors for high blood pressure, including diabetes, smoking, genetics and obesity. However, there is often no single cause of high blood pressure. People who have high blood pressure and there is not a cause identified are said to have essential or primary high blood pressure. Essential high blood pressure accounts for about 95% of high blood pressure cases in the United States.

Sometimes high blood pressure is a result of another condition or medication. This is called secondary hypertension and can be caused by:

  • Obesity
  • Anxiety/stress
  • Birth control pills
  • Adrenal gland tumor
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Cushing syndrome
  • Appetite suppressants
  • Certain cold medications

Some people are more likely than others to have high blood pressure, including:

  • African-Americans
  • Pregnant women
  • People with a family history of high blood pressure
  • Smokers
  • People who are inactive
  • Women who take birth control pills
  • People with too much salt in their diet

Tests and Treatment Options

Since there are few or no symptoms of high blood pressure, the only way to test for and diagnose it is to take an actual blood pressure measurement. This can be done at your health care provider or at a pharmacy. Or, there are monitors you can purchase to use at home.

Blood pressure is usually measured with a sphygmomanometer. This device consists of a stethoscope and arm cuff that is placed around your arm and inflated.

What is normal blood pressure?
Normal blood pressure: Less than 120/80
Prehypertension: 120-139/80-89
Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159/90-99
Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above/100 and above

High blood pressure treatment largely includes lifestyle changes and in some cases, drug therapy. The main goal of high blood pressure treatment is to lower blood pressure so it does not lead to other complications, such as heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

Ways to lower blood pressure:

  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Follow a healthier diet
  • Exercise
  • Reduce the sodium in your diet
  • Limit alcohol intake

Drugs that can be used to lower blood pressure:

  • Alpha blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers
  • Renin inhibitors
  • Vasodilators

Helpful Tips and Home Remedies

All adults over 18 should have their blood pressure checked on a routine basis as a preventative measure. Living a healthy lifestyle can also be preventative in nature.

Ways to lower blood pressure:

  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Follow a healthier diet
  • Exercise
  • Reduce the sodium in your diet
  • Limit alcohol intake

Eating less sodium can also help in lowering blood pressure. Here are tips on reducing the salt intake in your diet:

  • Don’t add salt to foods
  • Add high potassium foods such as fruits and vegetables to high sodium foods
  • If you cook with salt, add it at the end
  • Read food packaging labels and shop for foods with low sodium options
  • When you dine out, ask about salt in food, as restaurant meals tend to be high in sodium

References

  • http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/default.htm
  • http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypertensive-crisis/AN00626
  • http://www.medicinenet.com/high_blood_pressure/article.htm
  • http://heartdisease.about.com/cs/hypertension
  • http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Blood-pressure-(high)/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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