Hypertension is the clinical term for high blood pressure. It is a type of cardiovascular disease that affects more than 65 million Americans every year. Hypertension is a serious disease, which, if left untreated, can severely affect all of the major organs in your body. When uncontrolled, it can also increase your risk of having a potentially deadly heart attack or stroke.
Types of Hypertension
Blood pressure is a measurement of the force at which blood is being pumped through your arteries. It is measured using a special instrument known as a sphygmomanometer. This instrument consists of an inflatable cuff that is worn around the upper arm, and a measuring device. Normal blood pressure is generally in the region of 120/80 on the sphygmomanometer. Hypertension is diagnosed when the reading on the sphygmomanometer is elevated above this level. There are actually three different types of hypertension:
- Prehypertension: Prehypertension signifies the beginning stages of high blood pressure. It is diagnosed when your blood pressure levels measure between 120/80 and 139/89.
- Stage 1 Hypertension: Stage 1 hypertension is diagnosed when your blood pressure levels measure between 140/90 and 159/99
- Stage 2 Hypertension: Stage 2 hypertension is the most severe type of hypertension. This occurs when your blood pressure levels are greater than 160/100.
Risk Factors For Hypertension
Though anyone can develop high blood pressure, certain people are at increased risk for developing the condition. Risk factors for hypertension include:
- being over the age of 60
- being African-American
- being obese
- smoking tobacco
- having a high salt intake
- having high cholesterol
- having a family history of hypertension
What Causes Hypertension?
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to hypertension. Primary hypertension, which accounts for more than 95% of all cases in the United States, usually occurs because of a variety of lifestyle factors, such as smoking, eating a poor diet, or being overweight. However, it is very hard to find a single cause for primary hypertension.
Secondary hypertension occurs as a result of certain illnesses or diseases. These illnesses may include:
- kidney disease
- thyroid disease
- sleep apnea
- coarctation of the aorta (narrowing of the main artery in the heart)
Symptoms of Hypertension
Unfortunately, hypertension rarely produces any visible signs or symptoms. For this reason, hypertension is often termed the "silent killer." When symptoms of hypertension do occur, they can include:
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- blurred vision
Most sufferers do not experience any signs of high blood pressure until their condition becomes extreme or out of control.
Complications of Hypertension
Hypertension is a disease that must be taken very seriously. When left untreated, hypertension can cause serious damage to the arteries and organs inside of your body. Some of the most common complications include:
- Left Ventricular Hypertrophy: This type of heart disease occurs when the primary pumping chamber of the heart becomes thickened and narrowed. This forces the heart to work extra hard, increasing your chances of a heart attack.
- Ruptured Brain Vessel: Due to the force at which blood travels through the arteries, hypertension can cause vessels in the brain to rupture, leading to a stroke.
- Vision Loss: Vision loss often occurs in people with severe hypertension. Blood vessels in the eyes often bleed or rupture as a result of the force at which the blood is traveling through the arteries..
- Kidney Failure: Hypertension can cause the arteries in the kidneys to narrow and harden, making it impossible for a kidney to function properly. This can lead to permanent kidney failure.
If you have high blood pressure, it is important that you seek help from your health care professional. There are a number of different medications that can help you to control your blood pressure and eventually lower it. This will help to reduce your risk of hypertension complications. Common hypertension medications include:
- Beta Blockers (these lower the rate at which your heart beats, helping to decrease blood pressure)
- Calcium Channel Blockers (these keep calcium from entering the heart and arteries, allowing blood vessels to relax and blood pressure levels to drop)
- ACE Inhibitors (these prevent the buildup of the hormone angiotensin, which contributes to narrowing of the arteries)
Note: If you are thinking of becoming pregnant or are trying to conceive, avoid ACE inhibitors. While they were previously thought to be safe up until the third trimester of pregnancy, a new study has revealed that use of ACE inhibitors early in pregnancy may actually triple your risk of birth defects. Although further research is needed to confirm this finding, speak to your doctor about alternatives if you are considering getting pregnant.
There are a number of things that you can do to help reduce your risk of developing hypertension. By focusing on a healthy lifestyle, you can help to improve your heart health and prevent future complications related to high blood pressure.
- Follow a Healthy Diet: A healthy diet, low in saturated fats, and high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is a great way to improve the health of your heart and blood vessels, and to prevent high blood pressure.
- Lose Excess Weight: Being overweight or obese is a major cause for concern when it comes to blood pressure. By losing weight, even as little as ten pounds, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure.
- Quit Smoking: Not only is smoking bad for your lungs, but it also plays a role in hardening of the arteries, a major contributor to high blood pressure.
- Exercise: By getting some form of activity everyday, you will help your heart to pump blood more efficiently throughout your body, lowering your risk of developing hypertension.