High Blood Pressure

Overview

High blood pressure or hypertension occurs when blood pressure against artery walls has increased to a level where arterial damage or other health problems are a concern. Healthy arteries allow the blood to flow. When arteries are too narrow or inflexible, the heart has to work harder to keep the blood flowing. This is actually a common condition found in 1 adult out of every 3 in the United States. High blood pressure is scary because often there are no symptoms. This lack of warning signs has labeled high blood pressure as the “silent killer.” Fortunately physicians can easily diagnose this condition and there are many options available that will help lower blood pressure.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure contributes to serious health problems. It creates a higher risk for strokes and heart attacks. Aneurysms can be formed as high pressure may weaken the arteries or create a bulge. Ruptured aneurysms are life threatening. The increased work load on the heart can lead to heart failure. Kidney function may be hampered, vision may be affected, and memory and understanding may be compromised.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Many people with high blood pressure do not experience symptoms. Individuals with this condition may experience headaches or dizziness but many do not, even when their blood pressure has reached a life threatening level.

Physicians check blood pressure routinely using an instrument called a sphygmomanometer, an arm cuff that is inflated until blood circulation is cut off. While a valve deflates the cuff, the doctor monitors the pressure when the blood is flowing through the arteries and the pressure when the flow stops. The pressure in arteries when the heart is beating is called systolic and the blood pressure between heartbeats is called diastolic. The ideal blood pressure is 120 – 139/80 – 89 with systolic numbers on top and diastolic on the bottom. High blood pressure is a systolic number over 140 and a diastolic number over 90.

A high blood pressure reading can be the result of factors such as smoking, caffeine, or recent physical activity. Emotional state and time of day can also affect blood pressure so a single reading is never conclusive. If blood pressure does stay above 140/90 for a period of time, treatment is recommended.

Causes

Two types of high blood pressure have been identified. The first, Primary Hypertension, is associated with aging and tends to develop over a number of years. Systolic blood pressure generally rises with age because of increasing inflexibility of the arteries, build-up of plaque, and/or the presence of cardiac and vascular disease.

Secondary Hypertension appears suddenly, and gives a higher blood pressure reading than found with primary hypertension. This condition is usually caused by underlying condition, which may include kidney problems, adrenal gland tumors, congenital defects of the blood vessels, prescription medication, or illegal drugs. Factors that contribute to Secondary Hypertension include age, sex, race, family history, obesity, inactivity, smoking, excessive salt in diet, too little potassium, too little vitamin D, alcohol use, stress, and some chronic conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease. Continue reading for Prevention information . . .

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