What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, occurs when your blood pressure increases to dangerous levels. Your blood pressure measurement notes how much blood is passing through your blood vessels and the amount of opposition the blood meets while the heart is pumping.
High blood pressure can be caused by narrow arteries. The narrower your arteries are, the higher your blood pressure will be.
High blood pressure typically develops and gradually increases over the years. It may be difficult to notice symptoms initially. However, hypertension can cause damage to your blood vessels and organs, even without symptoms.
Timely detection is the key to treating hypertension. Checking your blood pressure readings regularly can help you and your doctor notice any changes. If your blood pressure increases, your doctor may have you monitor your blood pressure over a few weeks to see if the number stays raised or falls back to normal levels.
Symptoms of Hypertension
Hypertension is a silent condition, meaning symptoms may not be detected over a long time. It may take years or even decades for the condition to reach levels severe enough that symptoms become noticeable.
Symptoms of severe hypertension may include:
- chest pain
- bleeding from nose
- shortness of breath
- blood in urine
- visual changes
These symptoms require immediate medical attention. They don’t occur in everyone with hypertension, but waiting for a symptom of this condition to appear could be fatal.
The best way to know if you have hypertension is to get regular blood pressure readings. Most doctors’ offices take a blood pressure reading at every appointment.
Causes of High Blood Pressure
There are two major types of hypertension:
Primary hypertension, also known as essential hypertension develops over time with no detectible cause. Primary hypertension is common.
Researchers are still uncertain as to what causes blood pressure to slowly increase. However, they suspect a combination of factors:
- Genes: Some people are genetically susceptible to hypertension, either from gene mutations or genetic irregularities inherited from your parents.
- Physical changes: If something in your body changes, you may begin experiencing issues throughout your body, including high blood pressure.
- Environment: Unhealthy lifestyle choices like lack of physical activity and poor diet can lead to weight problems. Being obese can increase your risk for high blood pressure.
Secondary hypertension often occurs quickly and can become more severe than primary hypertension. Several conditions that may cause secondary hypertension include:
- kidney disease
- congenital heart defects
- problems with your thyroid
- side effects of medications
- use of illegal drugs
- alcohol abuseor chronic use
- obstructive sleep apnea
- adrenal gland problems
If your blood pressure is raised, your doctor may request you have more readings over the course of a few days or weeks to observe it. A hypertension diagnosis is rarely given after just one reading. Your doctor needs to see indication of a sustained problem. This is because your environment can equally contribute to hypertension.
If your blood pressure remains high, your doctor will likely conduct more tests to rule out underlying conditions. These tests can include:
- urine test
- cholesterol screeningand other blood tests
- test of your heart’s electrical activity with an electrocardiogram(EKG, sometimes referred to as an ECG)
- ultrasoundof your heart or kidneys
Your doctor may begin treating your hypertension during these tests, to reduce your risks of suffering irreversible complications.
Understanding High Blood Pressure Readings
Two numbers create a blood pressure reading:
- Systolic pressure: This is the first, or top number which shows the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats and pumps out blood.
- Diastolic pressure: This is the second, or bottom number which indicates the reading of the pressure in your arteries between beats of your heart.
Five categories define blood pressure readings for adults:
- Healthy: A healthy blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
- Elevated: The systolic number is between 120 and 129 mm Hg, and the diastolic number is less than 80 mm Hg. Doctors usually don’t treat elevated blood pressure with medication, they may encourage lifestyle changes.
- Stage 1 hypertension: The systolic number is between 130 and 139 mm Hg, or the diastolic number is between 80 and 89 mm Hg.
- Stage 2 hypertension: The systolic number is 140 mm Hg or higher, or the diastolic number is 90 mm Hg or higher.
- Hypertensive crisis: The systolic number is over 180 mm Hg, or the diastolic number is over 120 mm Hg. Blood pressure in this range requires quick medical attention especially when accompanied with symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, headache or visual changes.
A blood pressure reading is taken with a pressure cuff. For an accurate reading, it’s important you have a cuff that fits. An ill-fitting cuff may deliver wrong readings.
A number of factors help your doctor determine the best treatment option for you. These factors include which type of hypertension you have and what causes have been identified.
Primary hypertension treatment options
For primary hypertension diagnosis, lifestyle changes may help ease your symptoms. If lifestyle changes proves abortive, your doctor may prescribe medication.
Secondary hypertension treatment options
If an underlying issue causing your hypertension is discovered, treatment will focus on that other condition.
Sometimes, hypertension is persistent despite treatment for the underlying cause. In this case, your doctor may work with you to develop lifestyle changes and prescribe medications to help reduce your blood pressure.
High Blood Pressure Medications
Many people go through a trial-and-error phase with blood pressure medications. You may need to try different medicines until you find one that is effective for you.
Some of the medications used to treat hypertension include:
- Beta-blockers: These make your heart beat slower and with less force by reducing the amount of blood pumped through your arteries with each beat, which lowers blood pressure.
- Diuretics: Diuretics help your kidneys remove excess sodium from your body. High sodium levels and excess fluid in your body can increase blood pressure. As the sodium leaves, extra fluid in your bloodstream moves into your urine, which helps lower your blood pressure.
- ACE inhibitors: Angiotensin is a chemical that causes blood vessels and artery walls to tighten and narrow. ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors prevent the body from producing as much of this chemical. This helps blood vessels relax and reduces blood pressure.
- Calcium channel blockers:These medicines block some of the calcium from entering the cardiac muscles of your heart, thereby leading to less forceful heartbeats and a lower blood pressure. These medicines also work in the blood vessels, causing them to relax and further lowering blood pressure.
Source: healthline.com, express.co.uk
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