High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
- Signs and Symptoms
- Causes and Risk Factors
- Diagnosis and Testing
- Possible Complications
- Living with
High blood pressure or hypertension is a common condition in which heart pumps blood in arteries with higher pressure than the normal. Hypertension mostly does not cause obvious symptoms that is why it can remain undiagnosed for long time.
Blood pressure describes the force necessary to pump blood by heart and how hard it is pushed against the artery walls. If blood pressure remains high for a prolonged period of time, serious damage can occur causing heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease and dementia.
Therefore, it is very important to keep the blood pressure within the normal range.
For most people, no symptoms occur so they have no idea that their blood pressure is high. Unless blood pressure is severely high, most people are unaware of high blood pressure until they have their blood pressure measured.
Some common symptoms are:
- Repeated or constant headache
- Double vision or dizziness
Blood pressure is measured by the blood pressure instrument (stethoscope and gauge) and by using the electronic devices.
Heart pumps blood by alternating contracting and relaxing movement of heart muscles.
That is why there are two blood pressure points; one when heart contracts and pumps blood in arteries called Systolic; and the other when heart relaxes and receives blood called Diastolic.
Blood Pressure Limits
Systolic (mm of Hg)
Diastolic (mm of Hg)
High Blood Pressure
160 or above
100 or above
The systolic number is the top number on a blood pressure reading. The diastolic number is the bottom number on a blood pressure reading, e.g. 120 / 80 mm of Hg.
Blood pressure varies when we perform different activities. It is absolutely normal, for instance blood pressure increases when we run or excited but come back to normal when resting. Blood pressure also increases with age and size of the body.
With high blood pressure, there are two types, including primary hypertension and secondary hypertension.
With the primary type, the cause is usually not found and this type tends to develop over the long period of time. This is the most common type of hypertension.
With the secondary type, an underlying medical condition or some other medicines is the cause. The blood pressure is usually higher and it typically comes on suddenly. Common causes of secondary hypertension include:
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Certain blood vessel defects
- Illegal drugs, such as amphetamines and cocaine
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Kidney problems
- Thyroid problems
- Certain medications, such as cold remedies, over-the-counter pain medications, birth control pills and decongestants
- Chronic alcohol use or alcohol abuse
Risk factors for high blood pressure may include:
- Being over age 45 for men or over age 65 for women
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Eating too much salt and too little potassium
- Not exercising regularly
- Being obese or overweight
- Using tobacco
- Not getting enough potassium
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Certain chronic medical conditions
- Excessive stress
Everyone should have their blood pressure measured every two years starting at age 18. For people above 45 years or if a reading is ever high, the person may need to have the blood pressure checked more often to keep a close eye on it.
Do not measure the blood measure right after physical exercise for e.g. climbing stairs, walking or when under stress. For more accurate readings, it is better to rest for 5-10 mins before measuring the blood pressure.
Diagnosis of hypertension is very easy and it simply requires accurate blood pressure readings. If a nurse or doctor takes the blood pressure and it is considered high, it will be checked again about two weeks later to confirm high blood pressure. Some doctors do check blood pressure several times before making a diagnosis.
Since blood pressure can affect other parts of the body and increase the risk for several serious conditions, further testing may be done to look at the general health. Things like urine testing, blood testing and testing to look at the electrical activity of the heart are common.
If the person is diagnosed with prehypertension, the doctor may want to keep an eye on the blood pressure at home and come in periodically to have it checked. This is done to try and prevent from developing high blood pressure.
Medications are a very common part of a treatment plan for high blood pressure. There are many different types your doctor may use, depending on the underlying cause and how high your blood pressure it. Common medications include:
- Thiazide diuretics: These work to help get excess water and sodium out of the body which helps to decrease blood volume.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: These work to relax the blood vessels.
- Calcium channel blockers: These works to relax the blood vessels.
- Beta blockers: These open the blood vessels, reduce how hard the heart works and slow the heart beat.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers: These work to relax the blood vessels.
- Renin inhibitors: These work to reduce the making of a chemical that raises blood pressure.
In addition to the medications above, additional medications may be prescribed if they are not lowering your blood pressure enough, including:
- Alpha blockers: These help to keep blood vessels open.
- Central-acting agents: These help to keep blood vessels open and slow the heart rate.
- Aldosterone antagonists: These helps to prevent fluid and salt retention.
- Alpha-beta blockers: These helps to reduce how much blood is being pumped and they slow the heart rate.
- Vasodilators: These help to keep the muscles relaxed so the arteries stay open.
High blood pressure that goes untreated and uncontrolled can lead to serious complications, including:
- Stroke or heart attack: The arteries can get thick and hard with high pressure.
- Heart failure: Heart muscle can get thick with high pressure.
- Eye damage/ Vision loss: The blood vessels that supply the eyes can get damaged.
- Metabolic syndrome: High blood pressure increases the risk of this syndrome.
- Aneurysm: High pressures can weaken blood vessels.
- Kidney problems: The small blood vessels that supply the blood to kidneys can also get damaged due to hypertension.
- Memory or focus problems are possible with uncontrolled high blood pressure.
There are many things people can do to make living with high blood pressure a lot easier. In fact, lifestyle changes are a big part of a good treatment program. Common methods include:
- Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet and is low in fat and salt. Ideally, salt should be kept to a minimum of 1,500 milligrams per day.
- Exercise regularly and lose any extra weight. Ideally, adults should get 30 minutes of exercise per day.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol use
- Practice relaxation and keep stress under control.
- Keep an eye on your blood sugar with an at-home monitor.