High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects more than thirty percent of American adults. It is a major cause of heart disease and is the leading cause of strokes. Although it is the most common cardiovascular disorder, many people are not aware that they have hypertension.
What is Hypertension?
Healthy arteries are made of elastic tissues and muscles that stretch when the heart pumps blood through them. When blood is pumped more forcefully, the arteries stretch more to allow blood to flow easily. If the force required to pump blood is often high, the elastic walls of the arteries become stretched beyond their healthy limits and become damaged. High blood pressure creates problems such as increased workload on the cardiovascular system, weakness of the arteries, cholesterol buildup in the arteries, formation of blood clots, and organ damage.
Your blood pressure is the force that is applied outwards, against the walls of the arteries. It is the result of two forces: the first occurs as the heart pumps blood through the arteries (systolic pressure), and the second is the force that is created when the heart rests in between heart beats (diastolic pressure).
These forces are measured and each is represented by a number in a blood pressure reading that is in the form of a fraction. The upper number represents the systolic blood pressure, which is higher than the lower number, or the diastolic blood pressure. At birth, normal blood pressure is around 90/60, and this steadily rises up to about 120/80 in healthy adults. Although blood pressure may rise temporarily during exercises or periods of stress, it usually returns to normal in healthy individuals. However, in some people, blood pressure remains chronically higher than normal, a condition called hypertension. People who have persistent blood pressure readings of 140/90 or higher are considered hypertensive and should seek immediate treatment to control their blood pressure. Treatments include a combination of lifestyle changes, reduction of excess weight, and medications to control blood pressure.
Hypertension affects more than 75 million American adults. Studies show that it is especially common among certain groups such as African Americans, who usually develop it earlier than Caucasians. Older individuals also develop high blood pressure more often than younger individuals, although it is not considered a part of healthy aging. It is estimated that about 60 % of Americans aged 60 and above have hypertension. Other risk factors for developing high blood pressure include overweight and obesity, a family history of the disease, and having high-normal levels of blood pressure. Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking, excess alcohol intake and lack of exercise may also contribute to the disease.
Contrary to the common belief that people who experience headaches, dizziness, nosebleeds or facial flushing probably have high blood pressure, hypertension usually does not cause any symptoms. Many people who have high blood pressure are not aware of the condition until they visit the doctor’s office and find out that they have it. Symptoms may appear during a hypertensive crisis, when blood pressure readings soar to extremely high levels (systolic pressure of 180 or higher OR a diastolic pressure of 110 or higher). Symptoms include severe headache, severe anxiety, nose bleed, and shortness of breath. Emergency treatment is necessary to avoid complications such as stroke or heart attack. For more information on hypertension, follow the links below:
WebMD Hypertension Overview and Facts. WebMD’s High Blood Pressure Guide contains a wealth of information to help you understand and manage hypertension. Learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of high blood pressure.
Assess Your High Blood Pressure Related Risks. The American Heart Association provides a high blood pressure (HBP) Health Risk Calculator, which lets you enter your latest blood pressure reading and tells you your risk of developing complications, such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and heart failure.
Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. Learn more about your blood pressure readings and what the numbers mean.
High blood pressure (hypertension). Mayo Clinic’s website leads you to a compendium on hypertension that is easy to read and understand.
Hypertension Definition and Classification. Medscape discusses the classification system used to describe the severity of hypertension, which correlates with the health risks of an individual. It is essential for doctors to use this classification system to aid their decisions in the therapeutic management of the disease.
Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension. Also called pre-eclampsia, or toxemia of pregnancy, this life-threatening condition is a complication in one out of 14 pregnancies.
Hypertension in Children and Adolescents. The rate of hypertension among adolescents is increasing, which coincides with the increase in obesity rates. Among preadolescents, secondary hypertension related to various diseases is more common.
Essential or Primary Hypertension. Essential hypertension is the most common form of high blood pressure condition, which is considered to be a modifiable risk factor for heart disease.
Secondary Hypertension. This is a less common form of the disease, and possible causes include kidney disease, use of certain medications, and adrenal gland disorder.
High Blood Pressure Treatment. The management of high blood pressure involves a combination of lifestyle modification and medications, which may vary according to the severity of the disease.
Malignant Hypertension. Extremely high blood pressure that suddenly occurs in about one percent of people with hypertension is a medical emergency that can lead to serious complications and death.
How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed? Proper evaluation of blood pressure must be done in a doctor’s office.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments for High Blood Pressure. Diet, physical activity and relaxation techniques may help improve high blood pressure.
What is Pulmonary Hypertension? This condition is different from systemic high blood pressure, since it affects the circulation in the lungs.
High Blood Pressure and Hypertensive Heart Disease. Persistent high blood pressure may lead to the development of heart disease, which can lead to heart failure and death.
High Blood Pressure and Kidney Disease. Chronic hypertension can damage the kidneys and lead to kidney disease and kidney failure.
Avoidable Deaths from Heart Disease, Stroke, and Hypertensive Disease. This study shows that in the US, avoidable deaths from heart disease, stroke, and hypertensive disease vary by age, sex, race/ethnicity, place, and time.