Blood Pressure

Overview

High blood pressure (hypertention) is a commonly occurring condition in which the force of blood against arterial walls is high enough and lasts long enough that it can cause problems like heart disease.

Blood pressure is calculated by both the amount of blood your heart pumps as well as the resistance to blood flow in your arteries. Your blood pressure gets higher the more heart your blood pumps and the narrower your arteries.

Hypertension can be present for years without symptoms, however damage to your heart or blood vessels can be detected. Left uncontrolled, hypertension can increase your risk of dire health problems including stroke and heart attacks.

Hypertension usually develops over many years and eventually it affects nearly everyone. Luckily it is fairly easy to detect high blood pressure and once you know you have it you and your doctor can make a plan to control it.

Signs and Symptoms

The majority of people with high blood pressure don’t exhibit signs or symptoms even if blood pressure readings heighten to dangerously high levels.

Sometimes people with hypertension can have shortness of breath, nosebleeds, or headaches, but these symptoms aren’t specific and don’t usually occur until hypertension has reached a life-threatening stage.

Primary (essential) hypertension

The most common kind of high blood pressure is primary hypertension and there is no identifiable cause, usually it develops gradually over many years.

Secondary hypertension

Sometimes people will have secondary hypertension which is caused by an underlying condition. Secondary hypertension will cause higher blood pressure readings than primary hypertension and will appear suddenly. Many medications and conditions can lead to secondary hypertension including: kidney problems, obstructive sleep apnea, thyroid problems, adrenal gland tumors, illegal drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine, congenital defects in blood vessels, medications such as decongestants, birth control pills, cold remedies, and some prescription drugs.

Diagnosis & treatment

Since there are usually no symptoms it is important to know the risk factors for hypertension and to be regularly checked for high blood pressure.

Measurements for blood pressure will fall into one of four general categories: normal, elevated, stage 1 hypertension, and stage 2 hypertension. When being diagnosed with high blood pressure your doctor will probably take readings at 3 or more separate appointments as it is normal for blood pressure to vary throughout the day and it could be elevated during doctor visits.

Some risk factors that may contribute to high blood pressure are: family history, race, age, sedentary lifestyle, stress, being overweight, some chronic conditions, high-sodium diet, too little potassium in your diet, as well as tobacco and alcohol use.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension you can do a lot to control it through lifestyle changes including: losing weight, getting physical activity, eating a diet with less salt, and limiting your alcohol and tobacco consumption.

You may need medication to help control your blood pressure. The most common blood pressure medications are: thiazide diuretics (water pills), ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, or angiotensin II receptor blockers.

If these medications are still not lowering your blood pressure enough your doctor may prescribe: alpha blockers, alpha-beta blockers, vasodilators, beta blockers, renin inhibitors, central-acting agents, or aldosterone antagonists.