High blood pressure is a cardiovascular disease that increases the force at which the blood pushes against the arteries, and is particularly prevalent among America’s senior citizen population. The increased pressure inside the arteries due to the coursing blood may threaten healthy arteries and cause a number of serious conditions, including heart attacks and strokes. Further, studies have shown that high blood pressure may also damage other parts of the body, including the eyes and the kidneys.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three adults in the United States – or nearly 68 million people – have high blood pressure. High blood pressure was present for 69 percent of people who had their first heart attack and 77 percent of people who had their first stroke.
An individual’s blood pressure is read as two numbers: a systolic pressure, or the pressure inside the arteries when the heart fills them with blood, and diastolic pressure, the pressure inside the arteries when the heart rests between beats. A healthy adult’s blood pressure is considered to be about 120/80, although it is quite normal for blood pressure to rise and fall due to changes in physical, mental or emotional activity.
As such, many doctors now consider normal blood pressure to be below 120/80, while high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90. Blood pressure that is between 120/80 and 140/90 is often considered pre-hypertension.
Causes of Hypertension
There are many potential causes or risk factors for hypertension. In general, individuals may be at risk for hypertension if they:
- Are overweight
- Are consistently under stress
- Drink too much alcoholic beverages
- Consume too much salt
- Are African American
- Have diabetes
- Have a family history of hypertension
- Have chronic kidney disease
- Have disorders of the adrenal gland
- Take certain medications, such as diet pills and certain migraine or cold medications
- Have renal artery stenosis
Signs and Symptoms of Hypertension
Hypertension is often known as a silent killer, as most of the time it presents no symptoms. In fact, most of the time individuals are unaware they have hypertension until it is found through a visit to their doctor. Further, because hypertension often goes unnoticed, an individual may develop diseases and problems as a result, such as heart disease and kidney problems.
However, high blood pressure that is left untreated for an extended period of time may present symptoms, such as:
- Severe headaches
- Changes in vision (blurred vision, double vision)
- Chest pain
- Sudden confusion or fatigue
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Blood in the urine
- Irregular heartbeat
- Pounding in the ears or neck
Diagnosis of Hypertension
Hypertension is easily and quickly identified and diagnosed through a simple blood pressure test. However, an elevated blood pressure reading does not indicate high blood pressure, so it is quite common for a healthcare provider to test an individual multiple times before diagnosing them with hypertension. It is also commonplace for medical professionals to encourage the purchase of a blood pressure cuff so the individual can track his or her blood pressure at home for a period of time.
Treatment for Hypertension
Treatment for hypertension involves lowering blood pressure so complication risks are also lowered. A healthcare professional may recommend specific lifestyle changes to individuals with pre-hypertension or moderate high blood pressure, including exercise, weight loss, smoking cessation, and a low-sodium diet.
If hypertension cannot be controlled through lifestyle changes alone, blood pressure medication may need to be taken. Most individuals with uncontrolled hypertension can expect to be on medication for the duration of their lives.
Prevention of Hypertension
Although hypertension often has a genetic component, the vast majority of individuals with hypertension can benefit from weight loss, exercise, and a low-sodium, well-balanced diet. Many cases of hypertension can be cured or prevented with a commitment to a healthy lifestyle and diet.
Resources for Hypertension
- National Hypertension Association
- American Society of Hypertension
- Pulmonary Hypertension Association
- American Heart Association