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High Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

A common condition that affects the body's arteries is high blood pressure, which is also called hypertension. High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood pushing against the artery walls is consistently too high. It makes the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other serious health complications.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

A person with primary high blood pressure does not have an identifiable cause and develops it over a long period of time. A secondary high blood pressure is caused by an underlying condition or factor, such as kidney disease, thyroid problems, sleep apnea, medication side effects, or illegal drug use. High blood pressure secondary to primary is usually more severe and appears suddenly.

Some factors that can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure include:

  • Age: The risk of high blood pressure increases as you get older.

  • Race: High blood pressure is more common among people of African descent.

  • Family history: High blood pressure tends to run in families.

  • Weight: Being overweight or obese can put extra strain on your heart and arteries.

  • Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise can lead to weight gain and poor cardiovascular health.

  • Tobacco use: Smoking or chewing tobacco can damage your arteries and raise your blood pressure.

  • Alcohol use: Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and harm your liver and kidneys.

  • Salt intake: Consuming too much salt can cause your body to retain fluid and increase your blood pressure.

  • Stress: Chronic stress can trigger your body to release hormones that raise your blood pressure.

  • Other conditions: Diabetes, high cholesterol, and obstructive sleep apnea can also contribute to high blood pressure.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

Most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, even if their blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels. That is why high blood pressure is often called a “silent killer”. However, some people may experience:

  • Headaches

  • Shortness of breath

  • Nosebleeds

  • Chest pain

  • Dizziness

  • Vision problems

  • Nausea

These symptoms are not specific to high blood pressure and may indicate other serious conditions. If you have any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Diagnosis of High Blood Pressure

Having your blood pressure measured by a health care professional is the only way to know if you have high blood pressure. In order to measure blood pressure, a device called a sphygmomanometer involves wrapping a cuff around your arm and measuring the pressure in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). After inflated, the cuff is gradually released while the gauge records the systolic and diastolic pressures.

As the first number on the gauge indicates, the systolic pressure indicates how much pressure your heart creates when it beats. As your heart rests between beats, your diastolic pressure represents the pressure in your arteries. Using this example, you would say "120 over 80" if your blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg.

According to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, there are four categories of blood pressure levels:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg

  • Elevated: 120-129/less than 80 mm Hg

  • Stage 1 hypertension: 130-139/80-89 mm Hg

  • Stage 2 hypertension: 140 or higher/90 or higher mm Hg

If your blood pressure reading is higher than 180/120 mm Hg, you have a hypertensive crisis and need emergency medical care.

According to your average blood pressure readings over time, your health care provider will diagnose you with high blood pressure. In order to get an accurate diagnosis, you may need to have your blood pressure checked several times at different times and places. A digital device may also be necessary for monitoring your blood pressure at home.

Treatment of High Blood Pressure

Among the treatment options for high blood pressure are: lowering your blood pressure to a safe level and preventing or reducing damage to your organs and blood vessels.

  • Lifestyle changes: These include eating a healthy diet that is low in salt, fat, and cholesterol; exercising regularly; maintaining a healthy weight; quitting smoking; limiting alcohol intake; managing stress; and getting enough sleep.

  • Medications: There are many types of drugs that can lower your blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels, reducing the amount of fluid in your body, or slowing down your heart rate. Some common classes of drugs are diuretics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), and aldosterone antagonists. Your health care provider will prescribe the best medication for you based on your blood pressure level, medical history, and other factors. You may need to take more than one drug to achieve your target blood pressure.

  • Other treatments: In some cases, you may need other procedures or devices to treat your high blood pressure, such as renal denervation, baroreceptor activation therapy, or implantable devices. These treatments are usually reserved for people who have resistant or secondary hypertension that does not respond to medications or lifestyle changes.

Prevention of High Blood Pressure

The best way to prevent high blood pressure is to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that can lower your risk of developing it or keep it under control if you already have it. These habits include:

  • Eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid foods that are high in salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and added sugars.

  • You should limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day, or to less than 1,500 milligrams if you have high blood pressure or are at risk for it. When cooking or seasoning your food, use herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon juice, or other flavorings instead of salt. Read food labels and choose products with little or no salt added.

  • Make sure you drink plenty of water and other fluids that are low in calories and sugar. Avoid drinks containing caffeine, alcohol, or energy drinks.

  • Getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. You can also combine both. As well as helping you lose weight, physical activity strengthens your heart and muscles, lowers your blood pressure, and improves your mood.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight that is appropriate for your height and body type. It is important to burn more calories than you consume in order to lose weight or prevent weight gain. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of high blood pressure and other health problems. As a result, you can eat fewer calories and increase your physical activity.

  • You should quit smoking or avoid secondhand smoke. If you smoke, talk to your health care provider about ways to quit. If you don't smoke, avoid being around people who do. Smoking damages your arteries, raises your blood pressure, increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and other diseases.

  • Women should limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day and men to two drinks per day. Overdosing on alcohol can increase your blood pressure, harm your liver and kidneys, and interfere with medication for lowering blood pressure. One drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

  • Managing stress levels and coping with emotional problems in healthy ways. Stress triggers your body to release hormones that can increase your blood pressure. It can also lead to unhealthy behaviors like smoking, drinking, or overeating. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, and listening to music are some of the relaxation techniques you can try to reduce stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed or depressed, you can also seek support from your family, friends, or a professional counselor.

It is a serious condition that can affect anyone at any age. It can damage your heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, and other organs without causing any symptoms. It is possible to treat or prevent high blood pressure by following your health care provider's advice and making some simple lifestyle changes. The better your quality of life, the lower your risk of complications.

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