January 05, 2012
2 min read
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What is hypertension?

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Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure. It is defined as transitory (short-lived) or chronic elevation of the blood pressure in the arteries. This elevation may lead to cardiovascular damage.

Blood pressure is broken into systolic and diastolic values. The systolic measurement is the peak pressure in the arteries, and the diastolic measurement is the minimum pressure in the arteries. Normal blood pressure is defined as being below 120/80, where 120 represents the systolic (maximum) measurement and 80 represents the diastolic (minimum) measurement. Hypertension occurs when the blood pressure reaches above 140/90. The risk for hypertension is increased in a condition known as prehypertension, which occurs when the blood pressure is between 120/80 and 139/89.

The two types of hypertension are essential or secondary. High blood pressure with an unknown cause is essential hypertension. High blood pressure with a known or direct cause is secondary hypertension. Some of the causes of secondary hypertension include kidney disease, tumors or medications such as use of birth control pills.

The most common causes of hypertension include smoking, obesity or being overweight, diabetes, having a sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, high salt or alcohol intake levels, insufficient consumption of calcium, potassium or magnesium, a deficiency in vitamin D, stress, aging, chronic kidney disease and adrenal and thyroid conditions or tumors. Some individuals may also be genetically predisposed to hypertension.

Headaches, fatigue, confusion, dizziness, nausea, vision problems, chest pains, breathing problems, irregular heartbeat and blood in the urine are all symptoms of hypertension. However, many cases of high blood pressure are asymptomatic, which is why periodic blood pressure screenings are recommended.

Hypertension is diagnosed by a health care professional who uses a sphygmomanometer to measure blood pressure. However, the results of a sphygmomanometer measurement may be skewed by stress, so further inquiry about family history and other risk factors is often required to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. When hypertension is suspected, electrocardiograms, echocardiograms or blood tests may be used to further evaluate the heart or identify possible causes of secondary hypertension.

Hypertension is treated by changing lifestyle factors including eating, smoking and exercise habits. Pharmaceutical interventions include ACE inhibitors, ARB drugs, beta-blockers, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, alpha-blockers and peripheral vasodilators

The best way to prevent hypertension is to eat healthy and get exercise. Reduction of stress, salt intake and alcohol intake are also helpful ways to prevent hypertension.

Additional information can be found by searching the following websites:

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002020_SubHomePage.jsp

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/highbloodpressure.html

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