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High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

What is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when an individual's blood pressure rises above the normal range and stays elevated. Essentially, the pressure in the arteries are elevated (there is too much force on the artery walls. Generally, high blood pressure is evident when there is a systolic pressure of 140 or higher (the number on the numerator) and/or a diastolic pressure of 90 diastolic or higher (number on the denominator)

Alternative Names


Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

Most people with high blood pressure don't have any symptoms.

If you have very high blood pressure, or your blood pressure rises quickly, you may have headaches, problems with your vision, fits or black-outs.

Causes, and risk factors of High Blood Pressure

There are two types of high blood pressure.

High Blood Pressure(Hypertension)

Primary (essential) hypertension
For most adults, there's no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure, called essential hypertension or primary hypertension, tends to develop gradually over many years.

Secondary hypertension
Some people have high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition. This type of high blood pressure, called secondary hypertension, tends to appear suddenly and cause higher blood pressure than does primary hypertension. Various conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including:

  • Kidney problems
  • Adrenal gland tumors
  • Certain defects in blood vessels you're born with (congenital)
  • Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs
  • Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines

There are many things which contribute to an individual's risk of developing high blood pressure. These things are collectively called "risk factors." Many diseases have important risk factors, and high blood pressure is no exception.

  • Age: Being older than age 55 is an important risk factor. Simply stated, the odds of developing high blood pressure increase as we get older.
  • Gender: At younger ages, women are less likely to develop high blood pressure than men. This risk equalizes later in life, but statistically, women are still less likely to develop high blood pressure, overall.
  • Family History: Having a family history of high blood pressure places you in a higher risk category than someone with no family history of high blood pressure. However, what this actually means is still a topic of research. It is clear that family history plays an important role in determining risk, but there are probably more important factors, and they are under your control.
  • Smoking: Smoking is the number 1 risk factor over which you have control. Smoking is such a powerful risk fator for so many different human diseases that doctors are encouraged to ask every patient who smokes if they would like to quit. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health.
  • Activity Level / Exercise: A low exercise lifestyle leads to a weak heart, poor exercise tolerance, and obesity. All of which have been implicated in the development of high blood pressure.
  • Diet: While there is evidence that specific items, such as salt, can worsen high blood pressure in certain individuals, the main impact that diet plays in high blood pressure risk is that it is a big factor in how much you weigh.
  • Medications and Street Drugs: Certain medications can cause or worsen high blood pressure, as can a wide variety of street, or "recreational" drugs, like cocaine, crack, and amphetamines ("speed").
  • Kidney Problems: The kidneys are very important regulators of long term blood pressure, and damage to the kidneys - can occur from diabetes - almost invariably leads to high blood pressure.

Treatment for High Blood Pressure

You're likely to need long-term treatment for high blood pressure because it canít usually be cured.

If you have very high blood pressure, you may need to go to hospital for treatment. But it's much more likely that your GP and/or a nurse will look after you.


Your GP or nurse will talk to you about lifestyle changes which might help. For example, he or she will advise you to:

  • stop smoking
  • change your diet to a low-fat, low-salt diet that includes fruit and vegetables
  • cut down on alcohol
  • cut down on coffee and high-caffeine drinks, such as cola
  • take some regular, moderate exercise
  • lose any excess weight

It may also help to try to reduce the stress in your life to prevent short-term rises in blood pressure – try relaxation techniques or meditation.

Complications of High Blood Pressure

The complications of high blood pressure result in severe illness or even death. This need never happen because there are excellent treatments available for high blood pressure from lifestyle change to drugs. Here are the major complications of uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Heart Disease

High blood pressure can lead to hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. The arteries become clogged with deposits of cholesterol, fat cells and inflammatory cells. If the obstruction is severe in the arteries of the heart, a heart attack may result. One out of every 5 deaths in the US each year is due to atherosclerosis. A heart attack may be the first sign of the disease.

High blood pressure can also lead to heart failure. When the heart has to work harder to pump the blood, the muscle tissue of the heart may lengthen, thin and lose its ability to pump all the blood out. Then you may have any or all of the following:

  • Swollen legs
  • Large liver
  • Juandice: yellow eyes and skin from severe liver damage
  • Swollen abdomen: fluid leading into the abdomen
  • Decreased urine due to diminished blood flow
  • Cold and pale limbs because of poor blood flow

Kidney Disease

High blood pressure damages the kidneys over time and may cause kidney failure. It takes loss of up to 90 percent of kidney tissue to reach the stage of kidney failure. The kidneys are an essential filter for all the toxins that are made in the course of your regular metabolism and any you might eat.

Damage to the kidneys is evident when the levels of blood urea nitrogen and creatinine rise in the blood and protein is found in the urine. High blood pressure is the second most common cause of kidney failure after diabetes.

Once kidney failure occurs, the patient either has dialysis, where the blood is cleaned of toxins by an external machine or has a kidney transplantation to restore normal kidney function.

Brain attack also known as stroke or cerebrovascular accident

When high blood pressure affects the arteries that lead to the brain, there is the risk of a brain attack (stroke). The effect of the stroke depends on which areas of the brain are damaged. There may be paralysis of one side of the body or loss of sensation or a mixture of the two.

600,000 people in the US have brain attacks every year and 160,000 die. The rest may be left with damage that prevents them from ever living a normal life or forces them to live the rest of their lives in a nursing facility.

There are signs that a brain attack is about to occur and you should try to recognize them.

  • Sudden blurred vision
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis of the face, arm and/or leg, usually on one side
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden headache, often severe

Prevention of High Blood Pressure

You can take steps to prevent high blood pressure by adopting a healthy lifestyle. These steps include maintaining a healthy weight; being physically active; following a healthy eating plan, that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy foods; choosing and preparing foods with less salt and sodium.

  • Following a Healthy Eating Pattern
  • Reducing Salt and Sodium in Your Diet
  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight
  • Being Physically Active
  • Limiting Alcohol Intake
  • Quitting Smoking

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