What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, happens when the pressure in the arteries in your heart increases to unhealthy levels. Measuring blood pressure takes into account how much blood is passing through the blood vessels in your body, combined with the amount of resistance the blood meets while the heart is pumping.
To measure blood pressure, doctors and nurses use two numbers:
- The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
- The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say, “120 over 80.” This measurement is considered normal.
Hypertension develops over time. For the most part, you don’t notice any symptoms. Even without symptoms, however, high blood pressure can harm your blood vessels and other organs, especially the brain, eyes, heart, and kidneys. It can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Detecting signs of hypertension early is important. Regular blood pressure readings can help keep track of any changes
Symptoms of high blood pressure
Hypertension doesn’t normally generate any outwardly visible symptoms. It can take years or even decades for the condition to reach a level severe enough for symptoms to become obvious. Even then, these symptoms may not even be hypertension, but some other ailment. The symptoms that have been associated with hypertension, however, can include:
- blood in the urine
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- visual changes
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. While this may not mean you have high blood pressure, waiting for a symptom of this condition to appear can be fatal. The surest way to know if you have hypertension is to get regular blood pressure readings. Make sure your doctor takes your blood pressure during every visit.
Causes of high blood pressure
High blood pressure develops over time and with no one single cause. There are several factors that researchers believe play a role in a person developing hypertension. They are:
- Age: The risk of high blood pressure increases as you get older.
- Environment: Unhealthy lifestyle choices like lack of exercise, poor diet, and excessive alcohol consumption increase your likelihood of developing hypertension.
- Genes: There are some gene mutations and genetic abnormalities that can make people more vulnerable to hypertension.
- Obesity: Being overweight has been shown to increase your risk for hypertension.
- Salt: Too much sodium in your diet can increase your blood pressure.
- Stress: High levels of stress can lead to temporary increases in blood pressure
- Tobacco: Smoking immediately increases blood pressure and also damages the lining of your artery walls, which can cause them to narrow and increase the likelihood of developing hypertension.
- Other ailments: Conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea have been shown to increase blood pressure.
Diagnosis for high blood pressure
A simple blood pressure reading at your doctor’s office can determine whether or not you have high blood pressure. If it is not part of your regular visit, ask your nurse or doctor to check your blood pressure for you.
If the blood pressure reading comes in high, your doctor will likely request that you have more readings over the course of a few days. Temporary events like your environment and what you have recently consumed can increase or decrease your blood pressure. Your doctor will need to see evidence of sustained high blood pressure readings before giving a hypertension diagnosis.
Treatments for high blood pressure
A number of factors will guide you and your doctor to determine the best treatment option for you. These factors include which type of hypertension you have and what causes have been identified. Normally, a combination of medication and lifestyle choice recommendations will be given to keep your high blood pressure in check.
There are effective interventions to lower your blood pressure that do not require a doctor’s visit or medications. They include physical exercise, weight loss, stress management, and reducing your consumption of salt and alcohol.
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Journal of the American College of Cardiology: "Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults.
National Health Service: "High blood pressure: Overview."