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Hypertension

Last Updated: December 14, 2023

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Hypertension is a medical condition, often asymptomatic, characterized by specific blood pressure readings above 140/90mmHg. If left untreated, this condition can be dangerous and lead to many other serious health conditions. Regular check-ups with a physician are important to diagnose and treat this condition.

What is Hypertension?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a medical condition characterized by higher-than-normal blood pressure levels for long periods.

Blood pressure readings above 130/80mmHg or 140/90mmHg are considered high blood pressure, depending on the specific population.

People with high blood pressure, or hypertension, are at higher risk for many health conditions and chronic diseases, making the management of blood pressure very important for personal health. 

Causes of Hypertension

There are dozens of risk factors associated with high blood pressure or hypertension.

  • Genetics: Genetics is a common risk factor, with some people being especially predisposed to experience hypertension. Many chronic cases of hypertension, especially in genetically prone individuals, are related to lifestyle factors like diet and exercise habits, excessive drinking, or smoking.
  • Diet: A poor diet, especially excessive sodium intake, can increase blood pressure levels. 
  • Unhealthy Habits: Smoking and consuming too much alcohol are also common culprits that can cause the condition. 
  • Health Conditions: Chronic kidney disease or cardiovascular disease can also cause hypertension.

How Blood Vessels Work

Maintaining normal blood pressure is made possible by the heart and blood vessels. Blood vessels need to expand and contract to supply blood to the body. 

These tissues also need to remain elastic and supple to respond to increases in blood pressure during vigorous activity or when the stress response is activated.

If vessels become too hard and cannot expand with increased blood flow, the blood inside those vessels is pushed faster and harder, causing an increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

Hypertension is often known as “the silent killer” because it has few obvious symptoms, and symptoms do not present until someone is at risk of serious health complications.

Symptoms, if present, may include: 

  • Headaches, throbbing, or pulsing in the head.
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain, especially during activity or excitement.
  • Chronic fatigue or weakness.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness, especially when standing up quickly.
  • Arrhythmia or palpitations.
  • Nosebleeds.

Symptoms will vary depending on underlying conditions, and a lack of symptoms does not mean that hypertension is not present. For these reasons, it is important to have regular appointments with a physician, especially for those predisposed to the condition.

Acute vs. Chronic Conditions

High blood pressure is not always bad - in sports performance, brief anxiety, or high-excitement situations, it is normal for blood pressure to increase drastically in an acute (short-term) way. 

Health issues only begin when elevated blood pressure persists for an extended period and normal blood pressure is not maintained at rest or during standard activities of daily living. Chronically high blood pressure is a serious health concern.

Risk factors for Hypertension

Many activities and habits can put someone at risk for developing hypertension. These risks are broken into modifiable and non-modifiable categories.

Even if non-modifiable factors contribute to the condition, Blood pressure can be dramatically improved by working on the modifiable factors.

Modifiable 

Modifiable factors predispose individuals to this condition that can be changed or avoided altogether.

These modifiable factors can be adjusted to treat or prevent high blood pressure, regardless of non-modifiable factors. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Excessive sodium intake
  • Overeating, overconsumption of calories
  • Being obese or carrying excess weight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking or vaping
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Chronic high stress

Non-modifiable

Non-modifiable risk factors for hypertension cannot be eliminated, but properly addressing modifiable factors can still cause massive improvements in health.

High-risk populations should focus on making the improvements they can, negating the non-modifiable risk factors. Some non-modifiable risk factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition or family history
  • Age 
  • Sex
  • Chronic diseases and health conditions, like metabolic syndrome and diabetes. 

The Dangers of Chronic High Blood Pressure

Chronic high blood pressure (hypertension) is related to many serious medical conditions and can lead to several chronic diseases.

Hypertension adds undue stress on the heart and blood vessels, making them work harder 24/7. More blood pushing harder against the blood vessels can cause more wear on the artery walls, leading to serious health problems. 

Because blood pressure is closely related to other conditions, having blood pressure levels measured regularly is a good way to screen for the early signs of chronic diseases.

It is not always known what causes high blood pressure, but doctors have found it closely related to many serious health problems.

It may indicate cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, heart disease, and coronary artery disease and can indicate the chances of a heart attack or heart failure.

Monitoring blood pressure allows doctors to catch these other conditions early, improving chances of positive health outcomes.

Diagnosing Hypertension

Diagnosing hypertension requires taking blood pressure readings multiple times over an extended period.

Getting blood pressure checked by a professional is only sometimes convenient and available and can be intimidating.

Learning to take a blood pressure reading at home and interpret blood pressure numbers is the best way to monitor one’s blood pressure.

Still, a professional hypertension diagnosis requires two or more clinical blood pressure measurements.

Managing Hypertension

Slight lifestyle changes can lead to massive improvements in blood pressure in just a few weeks.

Managing long-term hypertension requires changes to eating and activity habits, which are normally easy to implement and cost very little.

At Home Strategies

The most effective and simple at-home strategies for managing hypertension involve living a healthy lifestyle.

Vices like smoking and drinking lead to massive increases in blood pressure - so does being inactive, overweight/obese, or consuming excessive salt.

Positive lifestyle changes like being physically active or quitting smoking reduce the risk of hypertension, as do eating more fruits and vegetables and being moderately active for 150 minutes per week. 

A jog, bike ride, or taking the stairs at work is enough exercise to treat hypertension.

Medical Treatments

People with high blood pressure often turn to medical interventions for treatment, even before looking at lifestyle modifications.

Medications exist to improve high blood pressure, but as with most medications, they are prone to side effects, can be expensive, and do not treat the condition's underlying causes.

Calcium channel blockers, some of the most commonly prescribed high blood pressure medications, can cause rashes, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and more.

Medications to manage high blood pressure should only be considered in consultation with a doctor, and meds should be used in conjunction with, not instead of, lifestyle modifications.

Preventing High Blood Pressure

Prevention is always the best way to avoid high blood pressure. Healthy lifestyle habits are the best way to prevent issues later in life and reduce the risk of developing hypertension or other conditions.

Catching risk factors before they develop into problems is much simpler and more efficient than attempting to correct chronic high blood pressure once it has already set in.

Eating Habits

Avoiding excessive salt, sugar, and fats can improve high blood pressure and reduce the risks of heart disease.

Since eating habits are the main contributor to obesity, there is a secondary influence here, too. Eat more fruits and vegetables, less processed food, and avoid overeating to reduce the risks of high blood pressure.

Exercise

Physical activity, even light to moderate activity, improves health and helps to keep a person within target blood pressure ranges.

Brisk walking, recreational sports, or playtime with children all improve cardiovascular health and can lead to reduced blood pressure.

The USA Center for Disease Control recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate physical activity per week to improve health and reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure. 

Lifestyle 

Lifestyle factors, like drug use, alcohol consumption, and smoking, are some of the largest contributors to the increase in hypertension and cardiovascular diseases worldwide.

The American College of Cardiology found that smoking reduces patients’ ability to control their blood pressure, even when taking medication.

Similarly, heavy drinking has harmful effects on blood pressure - but reducing drinking to two drinks per day or less has shown improvements in high blood pressure similar to exercise or healthy diet modifications.  

Frequently Asked Questions About Hypertension

How do blood pressure numbers work?

Blood pressure is the pressure that blood pushes out against the walls of blood vessels. Systolic blood pressure is the higher number in a blood pressure reading and represents the pressure while the heart is actively pumping blood. 

Diastolic blood pressure, the lower number, represents existing pressure when the heart is relaxed between heartbeats.

What is healthy blood pressure?

Normally, 120/80 is considered normal blood pressure, and excessively high blood pressure may lead to health complications. Higher/high blood pressure is known to cause health issues, but drastically low blood pressure can cause issues, too. 

Enough blood pressure is needed for the heart to pump blood through the entire body.

Is hypertension the same as high blood pressure?

Hypertension is the medical term for chronic high blood pressure when increased blood pressure lasts for an extended period. Acute high blood pressure, like when exercising, is different from hypertension.

What are the different kinds of hypertension? 

Essential hypertension, formerly known as primary hypertension, is high blood pressure that does not directly result from a medical condition or disease. 

It is often related to obesity. Secondary hypertension, or secondary high blood pressure, is high blood pressure resulting from another medical condition, like diabetes or heart disease.

References

Hypertension - Wikipedia

Causes: High blood pressure (hypertension)

Influence of Physical Activity on Hypertension and Cardiac Structure and Function - PMC

High Blood Pressure and Older Adults | National Institute on Aging

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition

Smoking Associated with Lower Rates of Blood Pressure Control, Even for Patients Taking High Blood Pressure - Diagnosis | NHLBI, NIH

Disclaimer

The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.

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