High Blood Pressure Basics

Blood Pressure, Healthy Heart, Healthy Living
on August 13, 2011

High blood pressure is one of the most typically occurring heart problems. It develops almost without warning and can cause more serious ailments down the line. Know the high blood pressure basics and stay ahead of the curve.

High blood pressure is exactly what it sounds like. The heart forces the blood against the artery walls with such force that health problems like heart disease are a strong risk. Your blood pressure is a function of two things: the amount of blood pumped and the degree of resistance to the blood flow. The narrower your arteries become — perhaps due to atherosclerosis — the harder the pressure will be. You can be hypertensive for a long time before being diagnosed with the disease. Almost everyone develops hypertension at some point, and, once developed, hypertension places you at risk for serious heart problems like heart attack and even stroke. The good news is the condition is easy to detect, and your doctor can help you strategize as to how to manage the development.

Symptoms of high blood pressure are sneaky. The Mayo Clinic states that hypertension can be asymptomatic and that most people don’t even know they have high blood pressure. Even seriously high blood pressure can be asymptomatic. Sometimes a few people are able to detect a change in how they feel. Symptoms can include dizzy feelings, nosebleeds and headaches. Once these symptoms are felt, hypertension is usually at the point of severity and could even be life-threatening. Be sure you have your doctor check your blood pressure regularly, as this is the best way to detect the condition early. If you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease, your doctor will want to check you more often.

High blood pressure comes in two types. Primary high blood pressure is also called essential hypertension. There is no known cause at this time, but the disease tends to develop gradually as you age. Secondary hypertension is brought on by some underlying condition that puts you at risk for developing high blood pressure. Various conditions include: kidney problems; congenital defects or birth defects; adrenal gland tumors; illegal drugs like amphetamines or cocaine; and medication, such as cold remedies, birth control pills, pain relievers and decongestants.

High blood pressure risk factors are many common life experiences. The causes can include:

  • Age — As you age, blood pressure tends to increase.
  • Race — Black people tend to develop high blood pressure earlier in life.
  • Family history — This disease tends to run in the family.
  • Smoking — Smoking and chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure. The chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls, narrowing them and creating high blood pressure.
  • Being overweight and inactive — The more you weigh, the more blood you will need — causing high blood pressure. Inactivity leads to a higher heart rate, forcing the heart to work harder, increasing blood pressure.
  • Sodium — Too much sodium causes your body to retain fluid, resulting in high blood pressure.
  • Too little potassium — Potassium is a vital nutrient that balances the fluid in the body. Without it, you risk a high level of fluid and resulting hypertension.
  • Stress — A high level of stress can lead to temporary, dramatically increased high blood pressure.
  • Alcohol — Drinking can damage the heart and raise blood pressure temporarily. Long-term use can damage the heart and lead to permanent high blood pressure.