High Blood Pressure: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension – HBP) is a condition where the force of blood pushes against the walls of the blood vessel, causing the pressure to elevate. High blood pressure is often recognized as the “silent killer” because it often expresses no symptoms, but it is a major risk factor of stroke and heart disease. High blood pressure remains one of the leading causes of death in America, affecting approximately one-third of the adult population.
Your blood pressure can be determined in measurements of millimeters of mercury in a system of a systolic blood pressure (the top number) that represents the blood pressure of vessels every time the heart beats over the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) where the pressure is measured between the beats while the heart rests. The pressure number will depend on how much blood the heart pumps in the resistance of the arteries. Therefore, if the arteries are narrowed, the blood pressure is higher.
Blood Pressure Categories
Normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 mm/Hg. If your blood pressure is 130/80 mm/Hg, it is considered high. If your measured blood pressure is in the range between normal and high (120/80 to 130/80), it is considered to be elevated blood pressure and puts you at an increased risk for developing high blood pressure. Fortunately, elevated blood pressure can be controlled by making significant healthy lifestyle changes that often do not require medication.
Other categories of blood pressure include:
- 130-139/80-89 – Stage I High Blood Pressure
- 140 and above/90 and above – Stage II High Blood Pressure
- A top number more than 180/Bottom number more than 120 – Hypertension Crisis that requires immediate medical attention
More than 90% of all cases involving high blood pressure in the US have an underlying cause that cannot be detected. Doctors tend to classify this category of high blood pressure as ‘essential hypertension.’ Even though excessive hypertension has a mysterious underlying cause, it is often linked to specific risk factors including genetics (runs in the family), race, and age. Additionally, men tend to be more likely to develop high blood pressure compared to women. Also, Whites are less likely to develop high blood pressure compared to blacks, and black women, and sixty-five years and older have the highest incident rate of high blood pressure.
An unhealthy diet and lifestyle can significantly increase the potential risk of developing essential hypertension. The correlation between high blood pressure and salt is persuasive. In addition to obvious health factors, including diabetes and obesity, an insufficient intake of magnesium, calcium, and potassium can elevate the potential risk of developing HBP.
Common Causes of Hypertension
Scientists and doctors have yet to determine the actual cause of high blood pressure. However, there are significant factors that play a substantial role in increasing blood pressure. These factors include:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Excessive salt in the diet
- Lack of or minimal physical activity
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Thyroid or adrenal disorders
- The aging process
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic kidney disease
Primary Versus Secondary Hypertension
Doctors refer to primary hypertension as essential hypertension that can develop over time. Typically, primary hypertension has no identifiable cause. Even so, the factors involved are believed to be:
- Genetics – Many individuals have a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure that might be caused by a genetic abnormality or gene mutation inherited from ancestors.
- Physical Changes – Any change occurring in the body can lead to high blood pressure due to various factors, including an unnatural balance of fluid and salt. Increased blood pressure can lead to kidney malfunction.
- Exposure to the Environment – Making an unhealthy lifestyle choice involving consuming a poor diet or not participating in physical activity can make dramatic changes to the body, including weight problems. Obesity and being overweight can significantly increase the potential risk of developing high blood pressure.
Secondary hypertension tends to develop quickly (acute) and is significantly more serious than primary high blood pressure. The conditions associated with secondary high blood pressure include:
- Congenital heart defects
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Kidney disease
- Drug side effects
- Thyroid problems
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Illegal drug use
- Adrenal gland issues
- Endocrine tumors
Damage to the Heart
Excessive high blood pressure can cause significant harm and increase the heart and blood vessel workload. The increased stress on the vessels and the heart muscle can make both less efficient in delivering essential oxygen to tissues and organs. Over time, high blood pressure can cause significant force and friction that can damage the arteries’ delicate tissues. Additionally, bad (LVL) cholesterol can begin to develop plaque along the artery walls tiny tears and begin the development of atherosclerosis.
As the level of plaque and damage increase, the smaller (narrower) arteries raise blood pressure and create the perfect environment for heart attack, arrhythmia, or stroke. Because of that, early detection is crucial to survival. If the doctor determines your blood pressure has elevated, you may need treatment for hypertension that involves healthy lifestyle changes and prescription drugs. Taking action in the early stages can help eliminate the progression of the disease to a stroke or heart attack.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms
Many doctors call hypertension the silent killer because their patients often do not experience any symptoms until it is nearly too late. Numerous conditions share many of the symptoms associated with severe hypertension. Some of the symptoms involve:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in the urine
- Visual changes
Any symptom could require immediate medical attention. The symptoms often do not occur in every incident of hypertension. However, avoiding medical attention could be fatal if the symptom is associated with HBP. Your doctor will conduct routine blood pressure readings to help identify the early signs and symptoms associated with hypertension.
If your family has a history of heart disease or other risk factors for hypertension, the doctor may recommend routine blood pressure checks to ensure any problematic issue is discovered before it becomes serious or life-threatening.
Diagnosing and Treating High Blood Pressure
Early diagnosis is often the result of a simple blood pressure reading occurring at a routine visit at the doctor’s office. Identifying extensive hypertension often requires repeated visits to the doctor to see if the problem is sustained. The doctor may determine that your environment is a contributing factor to your increasing hypertension and the level of stress will need to be reduced.
The diagnostic procedure will usually involve:
- Urine Tests
- Blood Tests and Cholesterol Screening
- EKG (ECG) Electrocardiogram Tests to better understand the electrical activity of the heart
- Ultrasound of the kidneys or heart
These tests can help the doctor identify any primary or secondary problem that is leading to your elevated blood pressure. Also, the tests can help identify any damage to the organs associated with hypertension.
Treating High Blood Pressure
Once the doctor has identified the contributing factors to your high blood pressure, they may provide various treatment options to minimize the damaging effects of the condition. If it is determined that your condition is primary hypertension, you may need to make significant lifestyle changes to reduce your blood pressure levels. The doctor might prescribe drugs if the lifestyle changes are ineffective.
If the doctor diagnosed you with secondary hypertension, the doctor may identify the underlying issues of your condition and develop an effective treatment that best manages your care. Typically, the treatment plan will need to be required to determine the effectiveness of the treatment plan. In many cases, the doctor will prescribe medications including beta-blockers, diuretics, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, alpha-2 agonists, or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). For information on the recall and cancers associated with Valsartan, view our Valsartan cancer lawsuit page.
There are specific home remedies that help reduce the levels of high blood pressure, including eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein such as fish. Performing 150 to 160 minutes of moderate physical activity every week can make a dramatic change in reducing stress levels and lowering blood pressure naturally. Healthy exercise can also help strengthen the cardiovascular system.
Managing your stress through deep breathing exercises, medications, yoga, muscle relaxation, and massages can make a dramatic improvement in reducing the stress levels and help manage your high blood pressure. Consider eating less meat and more plants by reducing your dietary sodium levels between 1500 mg and 2300 mg every day. Cutting back on sweets can make a substantial improvement in reducing your blood pressure.