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Listen to your heart.

Hypertension - High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition in which the heart pumps blood against elevated blood pressure and has to work harder. Constant high pressure can lead to other health problems. The normal blood pressure range may vary with age. High blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, torn blood vessels in the eye which cause damage to vision, and damage to blood vessels in the brain which can lead to dementia.

An acceptable blood pressure range is somewhere between 120 to 139 systolic and 79 to 89 diastolic. Your doctor will discuss this with you and make recommendations.

It’s important to check and treat high blood pressure because it can lead to serious complications, including:

  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Kidney Failure
  • Blindness
  • Dementia
  • Torn blood vessels

Risk Factors for Developing High Blood Pressure

Certain risk factors may contribute to primary hypertension. These include older age, being African-American, a strong family history of high blood pressure in a first-degree relative, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking addiction, a high sodium diet, alcoholism or drinking too much, and stress.

Symptoms of Hypertension

Hypertension can be completely asymptomatic even when blood pressure levels reach dangerously high levels; this is why it is called a "silent killer."

Some people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds, but these signs and symptoms are also nonspecific and can occur in many other medical conditions.

Primary and Secondary Hypertension

Primary, or idiopathic, hypertension develops over many years. The cause of high blood pressure is unknown.

Secondary hypertension can be caused by conditions such as sleep apnea, certain kidney problems, adrenal gland tumors, thyroid problems (e.g., hyperthyroidism), congenital birth defects in blood vessels, medications (e.g., birth control pills), cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.

Diagnosis

You can have high blood pressure for years without any symptoms. Even without symptoms, hypertension can damage blood vessels and the heart and cause heart attack and stroke. Hypertension usually develops over many years and can easily be detected with the help of a blood pressure cuff. Hypertension is usually diagnosed during a regular annual visit to the doctor or sometimes during an acute visit.

Starting at the age of 18, blood pressure should be checked every two years. From age 40 onward, blood pressure should be checked annually. Two to three measurements of high blood pressure on two to three different occasions can lead to a diagnosis of high blood pressure. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your blood pressure will be monitored more closely. Blood pressure monitors in public places can also be used for monitoring between doctor's visits.

Treatment 

Lifestyle changes such as eating less salt, exercising regularly, losing weight if obese, and limiting oneself to moderate alcohol consumption (one drink/day for women and two/day for men) improve blood pressure. If lifestyle changes alone are not enough, your doctor may prescribe medications to control blood pressure. If your blood pressure is difficult to control, you may be referred to a kidney specialist referred to as a nephrologist.

Hypertension is not a problem that can be treated and then ignored. It is a condition that you will have to manage for the rest of your life. To keep blood pressure under control:

  • Take your medication regularly. Check with your doctor if you have side effects or cannot afford medication.

  • Schedule regular visits to the doctor. Make a note or bring along questions for good treatment of high blood pressure.

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating more fruits and vegetables, consuming less salt and alcohol, quitting smoking and losing weight.

  • Managing stress.

  • Get regular exercise.