What Is Hypertension?
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure, which describes a condition in which the force of blood pumping through the arteries is consistently too high. When this occurs, the walls of the arteries are extended beyond their normal limit, which can lead to damage and scarring and put people at risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Blood pressure is expressed in two numbers:
- Systolic blood pressure (the first/top number): measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats
- Diastolic blood pressure (the second/bottom number): measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart is at rest between beats
High, elevated, and normal blood pressure is usually defined in the following ranges:
What Are Symptoms of Hypertension?
Hypertension is often called “the silent killer” because it’s common for people who have it to have no symptoms. A healthcare professional can measure your blood pressure to know for sure if you have hypertension.
Uncommonly, severe hypertension can cause or be accompanied by symptoms including:
What Causes Hypertension?
Risk factors for developing hypertension include:
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Men are more likely to develop high blood pressure than women up to age 64
- Beginning at age 65, women are more likely to develop high blood pressure than men
- African-Americans in the U.S. tend to develop high blood pressure more often than other races
Risk factors for developing hypertension that can be managed or prevented include:
How Is Hypertension Diagnosed?
Blood pressure is measured with a pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer) placed around the upper arm and manually or electronically inflated. When inflated, the cuff compresses the brachial artery, the major blood vessel of the upper arm, stopping blood flow briefly. Then the air in the cuff is released slowly while the person performing the measurement listens with a stethoscope or monitors an electronic readout.
Adults 20 years of age and older should have their blood pressure checked during regular doctor visits.
What Is the Treatment for Hypertension?
Lifestyle changes are typically the first line treatment for hypertension, such as:
- Eating a balanced diet that low in salt
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Managing stress
- Not smoking
- Getting enough sleep
- Taking medications as directed
When medications are needed to treat hypertension, they may include:
- ACE inhibitors
- Calcium channel blockers
- Peripherally acting alpha-adrenergic blockers
- Diuretics (“water pills”)
- Angiotensin II antagonists (ARBs)
- Centrally-acting alpha adrenergics
- Renin inhibitors
- Combination medicines, made up of two or more different kinds of blood pressure medicines
What Are Complications of Hypertension?
Complications of untreated or uncontrolled hypertension include: