What is hypertension?

Hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure, occurs when the force of the blood pushing against the blood vessel walls is consistently high. Severe hypertension can lead to stroke or heart attacks.

Stage one hypertension is any blood pressure reading over 130/80 but under 140/90.

Common related conditions
Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure)

Causes of hypertension

The exact cause of high blood pressure is not known, but the following factors can contribute to the disease’s development:
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Inactivity
  • Stress
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Consuming excess salt
  • Genetic or family history of hypertension
  • Older age

Risk factors for hypertension

  • Age — as you age, you are more likely to develop high blood pressure as the blood vessels lose elasticity.
  • Gender — men under the age of 45 are more likely to develop high blood pressure, while women over 65 are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
  • Race — African Americans develop high blood pressure at the highest rates and tend to develop the condition at a younger age.
  • Family history — if your first-degree relatives have high blood pressure, you are at higher risk of developing it as well.
  • Obesity — extra weight adds strain to your heart and can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Poor diet — a diet high in saturated fats, sodium, sugar and calories can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Excessive drinking — excessive alcohol consumption can cause dramatic increases in your blood pressure.
  • Sedentary lifestyles — leading a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Smoking — smoking can damage the arteries and lead to high blood pressure.
  • Excessive stress — excessive stress can put you at higher risk of developing high blood pressure.

Symptoms of hypertension

High blood pressure is sometimes termed the “silent killer” because many people do not experience any symptoms.

Symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds can occur because of extremely high blood pressure, but they don’t typically occur in mild to moderate cases.

Diagnosis of hypertension

A blood pressure screening is a simple test that your primary care doctor typically performs during a physical exam. Your provider will place an inflatable cuff on your arm and measure your blood pressure using a gauge.

If you have a high blood pressure reading (over 120/80 mg Hg) without a prior history of high blood pressure, your doctor will schedule two to three follow-up blood pressure tests before diagnosing you with high blood pressure. Your doctor will also check both arms to determine if there is a pressure difference in the arms.

Treatments for hypertension

Treatment protocol for hypertension will depend on the stage of the disease you are diagnosed into.

Stage 1 hypertension

Treatments for stage one hypertension (above 130/80 but under 140/90) include losing weight, exercising, healthier eating and reducing stress.

Stage 2 hypertension

Stage two hypertension (consistently over 140/90) will require more aggressive treatments such as:

Lifestyle modifications
You may be able to control your high blood pressure with lifestyle modifications. Your doctor may recommend exercising, consuming a healthier diet or a weight loss plan.

High blood pressure medications are known as antihypertensives. The goal of antihypertensive medications is to lower high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association recommends that patients with stage 2 hypertension take two antihypertensive drugs from the following classes:

  • Diuretics
  • Beta-blockers
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Alpha blockers
  • Alpha-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Combined alpha and beta-blockers
  • Central agonists
  • Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors
  • Blood vessel dilators (Vasodilators)

The American Heart Association outlines the hypertension medication drug classes as well as the specific medications included in each class.

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