Hypertension Basics

Blood Pressure, Healthy Heart, Healthy Living
on February 13, 2012

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. In the United States, one in three adults has hypertension, reports the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Hypertension can be a serious condition, contributing to heart and kidney disease.

The basics. Your blood pressure refers to the force of blood flowing through your arteries. When your heart pumps, the pressure pushes the blood against your artery walls. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs when the flow of blood rises and stays at an elevated level.

The numbers. Blood pressure is measured using two different readings. When your health care professional takes your blood pressure, two numbers are recorded. The first number refers to systolic pressure. This is the measurement of the blood’s pressure as your heart beats and pumps blood. The second number is the diastolic pressure. This is the measurement of the blood’s pressure while your heart is resting in between beats. A blood pressure reading of 110 over 75 would not be a sign of hypertension.

The causes. According to the Mayo Clinic, primary hypertension has no specific cause. This type of hypertension will develop gradually over several years. However, diet and lifestyle can contribute to hypertension. A high-fat, high-sodium diet is likely to lead to higher blood pressure numbers, especially if you are overweight and inactive. Family history also may contribute to your hypertension. Secondary hypertension does have causes. For example, secondary hypertension may be caused by certain prescription medications, birth control pills and over-the-counter drugs such as pain relievers and cold medicines. Illegal drugs can cause hypertension as well. People suffering from kidney conditions and congenital blood vessel defects may be affected by hypertension.

The symptoms. Symptoms typically are rare for hypertension. However, some people may have headaches, buzzing in the ears, dizziness, confusion, nosebleeds and fatigue. An irregular heartbeat and changes in vision may also be symptoms.

The effects. Untreated hypertension may lead to heart attack, heart failure or stroke. It can cause an aneurysm, which is a potential life-threatening condition. Hypertension affects your kidneys, hindering their healthy functions. Vision loss is a potential effect of hypertension when the blood vessels in your eyes become damaged. Hypertension may even affect cognitive function and memory.

The treatment. Lifestyle changes may be your first step in the fight against hypertension. Quit smoking, limit alcohol consumption and sodium intake, and get active. Make healthier food choices, adding an abundance of fruit and vegetables into your diet. Stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water daily. Unfortunately, for many people, lifestyle changes are not enough. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help treat your hypertension. Some of these medicines include alpha blockers; beta blockers; ACE, or angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors; and diuretics.

If you suspect you are suffering from hypertension, seek help from a trusted medical professional.