Doctor's Notes on High Blood Pressure Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Diet, and Medications
High blood pressure is medically known as hypertension. In high blood pressure, the pressure within the arteries (vessels that carry blood away from the heart) is abnormally elevated. Causes of high blood pressure include familial (inherited) factors and increased stiffness of the arteries. High blood pressure causes a number of health complications including heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
High blood pressure typically does not cause specific symptoms or signs. When symptoms do occur or in cases with marked elevation of blood pressure, associated symptoms can include dizziness, blurred vision, shortness of breath, nausea, headache, and a feeling of pulsations in the head or neck. Chest pain, abdominal pain, and back pain can be symptoms of complications of severe hypertension.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Diet, and Medications Symptoms
High blood pressure usually causes no symptoms and high blood pressure often is labeled "the silent killer." People who have high blood pressure typically don't know it until their blood pressure is measured.
Sometimes people with markedly elevated blood pressure may develop complications because organs are stressed when they are exposed to the elevated pressures.
High blood pressure brain symptoms:
High blood pressure and heart symptoms
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
People often do not seek medical care until they have symptoms arising from the organ damage caused by chronic (ongoing, long-term) high blood pressure. These types of organ damage are commonly seen in chronic high blood pressure.
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini-stroke) caused by narrowed blood vessels or because of an aneurysm
- Kidney failure
- Eye damage with progressive vision loss
- Peripheral arterial disease causing leg pain with walking (claudication)
- Outpouchings of the aorta, called aneurysms
- In malignant hypertension, the diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) often exceeds 120 mm Hg.
- Malignant hypertension may be associated with headache, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, and stroke like symptoms
- Malignant hypertension requires emergency intervention and lowering of blood pressure to prevent brain hemorrhage or stroke.
It is of utmost importance to realize that high blood pressure can be unrecognized for years, causing no symptoms but causing progressive damage to the heart, other organs, and blood vessels.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Diet, and Medications Causes
In 90% of individuals with hypertension, the cause of high blood pressure is not known and is referred to as primary or essential hypertension. While the specific cause is unknown, there are risk factors that can contribute to developing high blood pressure.
Factors that cannot be changed
- Age: The older a person is, the greater the likelihood that he or she will develop high blood pressure, especially elevated systolic readings. This is largely due to arteriosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries."
- Race: African Americans develop high blood pressure more often than Caucasians. They develop high blood pressure at a younger age and develop more severe complications sooner in life.
- Age and Race: For adults who are older than 45 years old and do not have high blood pressure, the risk of developing the disease later in life is 93%for African-Americans, 92% for Hispanics, 86% for Caucasians, and 84% for Chinese.
- Socioeconomic status: High blood pressure is found more commonly among the less educated and lower socioeconomic groups. Residents of the southeastern United States, both Caucasian and African American, are more likely to have high blood pressure than residents of other regions.
- Family history (heredity): The tendency to have high blood pressure appears to run in families.
- Gender: Generally men have a greater likelihood of developing high blood pressure than women. This likelihood varies according to age and among various ethnic groups.
Factors that can be changed
- Obesity: As body weight increases, the blood pressure rises. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 kg/m. A BMI of 25-30 kg/m is considered overweight (BMI=weight in pounds x 703/ height in inches). Being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure. Healthcare professionals recommend that all individuals who are obese and have high blood pressure lose weight until they are within 15% of their healthy body weight.
- Obese people are two to six times more likely to develop high blood pressure than people whose weight is within a healthy range.
- Not only the degree of obesity is important, but also the manner in which the body accumulates extra fat. Some people gain weight around their belly (central obesity or "apple-shaped" people), while others store fat around their hips and thighs ("pear-shaped" people). "Apple-shaped" people tend to have greater health risks for high blood pressure than "pear-shaped" people.
- Sodium (salt) sensitivity: Some people have high sensitivity to sodium (salt), and their blood pressure increases if they use salt. Reducing sodium intake tends to lower their blood pressure. Americans consume 10-15 times more sodium than they need. Fast foods and processed foods contain particularly high amounts of sodium. Many over-the-counter medicines also contain large amounts of sodium. Read food labels and learn about salt content in foods and other products as a healthy first step to reducing salt intake. Fast food restaurants also make the salt and calorie content of their food available to consumers at their restaurants,
- Alcohol use: Drinking more than one to two drinks of alcohol per day tends to raise blood pressure in those who are sensitive to alcohol.
- Birth control pills (oral contraceptive use): Some women who take birth control pills develop high blood pressure.
- Lack of exercise (physical inactivity): A sedentary lifestyle contributes to the development of obesity and high blood pressure.
- Medications: Certain drugs, such as amphetamines (stimulants), diet pills, and some medications used for cold and allergy symptoms such as pseudoephedrine, tend to raise blood pressure.
Your arteries should be sturdy, springy, and smooth to move blood easily from your lungs and heart, where it gets oxygen, to your organs and other tissues. High blood pressure, or HBP, pushes too hard on your artery walls. This damages the inside and causes fat, or "plaque," to collect. That plaque makes your arteries more stiff and narrow, so they can't do their job as well.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.