Hypertension or high blood pressure (high BP) is a medical condition where the pressure in the arteries is persistently elevated. The heart pumps blood into the arteries, and it is circulated to all parts of the body. Hypertension develops when the heart constantly needs to exert higher force to deliver the blood to the organs through the arteries. Since a hypertensive heart must work harder to deliver blood, hypertension can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and heart failure. Also, the blood vessels in people with hypertension are narrower, putting them at risk of stroke, kidney disease and vision loss.
There are many reasons for high blood pressure. Some possible causes include caffeine, acute stress or anxiety, certain medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), combinations of medications, recreational drugs, sudden or acute pain, dehydration and white coat effect (fear of being in a hospital or doctor’s clinic).
What causes hypertension?
The causes depend on the type of hypertension: primary and secondary. Sometimes the blood pressure may suddenly increase, with or without any history of hypertension. These sudden spikes typically last for a short time and are called sudden high blood pressure or hypertensive urgency. The blood pressure may often return to normal after a while.
Primary or essential hypertension
Primary hypertension can result due to multiple factors:
- Hormonal activity
- Stress and poor lifestyle
- Physical changes in the body due to age
- Salt sensitivity
In some people, hypertension is caused by an underlying health condition. This is called secondary hypertension and tends to appear suddenly. Secondary hypertension causes higher blood pressure than primary hypertension.
Secondary hypertension is caused by specific conditions and their complications, such as
- Kidney disease
- Congenital defects in blood vessels
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Certain endocrine tumors
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Cushing syndrome
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- Thyroid problems
- Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, pain relievers and some prescription drugs
- Use of illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines
Risk factors of hypertension
Several factors increase the risk of hypertension:
- Age (being older than 60 years of age because the arteries stiffen and narrow due to plaque buildup along the inner lining)
- Being overweight or obese
- Regular tobacco use
- Alcohol abuse
- Male gender
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of exercise
- High-fat diet
- High salt intake in the diet
- Low potassium intake diet
- Family history of hypertension
- Existing health conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, sleep apnea and high cholesterol levels)
Symptoms of hypertension
Hypertension is generally considered a silent killer. Most people with hypertension do not have any symptoms.
It may take many years for the condition to become severe and for symptoms to appear. Many times, these symptoms may be attributed to other issues. The best way to know the blood pressure levels is through regular checkups.
Symptoms of severe hypertension include:
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Medscape. New Hypertension Guidelines: JNC 7. Journal Watch. 2003;2(5). https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/457298