What Causes High Blood Pressure?

Hypertension/High Blood Pressure Care

High blood pressure, sometimes called hypertension, is a condition that affects almost half of all people in the United States over age 20. In people with hypertension, the pressure of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries is higher than it should be. In many cases, people with hypertension don’t experience any high blood pressure symptoms. In time, however, high blood pressure can cause heart attack and stroke, and can lead to blood clots, aneurysm, vision loss, and kidney disease.

There are some risk factors for hypertension that you can’t control, such as age. Because your blood vessels become less flexible as you get older, your risk for hypertension increases as you age. You also have an increased risk if other people in your family have hypertension or if you are African American. Other risk factors include:

  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Overweight or obese
  • Smoker or exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diet high in fat and sodium
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Lack of exercise

How is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?

You should have your blood pressure checked regularly by your primary care physician as part of routine checkups at least annually. If you are at higher risk or have been diagnosed with hypertension, your physician may recommend checking it more frequently—even at home. According to the American Heart Association, here are the numbers you are looking for:

  • Normal: systolic (the top number) of less than 120 and diastolic (bottom number) of less than 80
  • Elevated: systolic of 120–129 and diastolic of less than 80
  • Hypertension Stage 1: systolic of130-139 or diastolic of 80-89
  • Hypertension Stage 2: systolic of 140 or higher or diastolic of 90 or higher
  • Hypertensive Crisis: systolic of180 or higher and diastolic of 120 or higher

In need of a family doctor to assess your risk for high blood pressure? Find a primary care physician near you.

What are High Blood Pressure Symptoms?

Hypertension typically develops slowly and often has no symptoms. That’s why it’s called the “silent” killer and can go undiagnosed for years. In addition to regularly having your blood pressure checked by your primary care physician, watch for these high blood pressure symptoms. They could be a sign of a hypertensive crisis that requires immediate medical care:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Breathlessness

What is the best treatment for high blood pressure?

Left untreated, high blood pressure can significantly increase your risk for heart attack and stroke, and can lead to blood clots, aneurysm, vision loss, and kidney disease. The good news is that hypertension can be treated with medications, lifestyle changes, or a combination of the two depending on how severe your condition is. If your blood pressure is moderately high, your primary care physician will typically prescribe a medication in addition to making these important lifestyle changes:

  • Regular exercise—three or four days a week for at least 30 minutes—should help lower blood pressure in just a few weeks, particularly if you were leading a sedentary lifestyle.
  • If you are overweight or obese, moderate weight loss of 5 to 10 pounds can help lower blood pressure and also can make hypertension medications more effective.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is low in fat and salt and high in potassium. Choose plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy products. Be sure to read food labels for hidden sodium and try to keep your daily intake to 1,500 milligrams or less per day.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep and using relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can help lower blood pressure.

For some people, medication is necessary to help manage high blood pressure. Your primary care physician may prescribe one or more of these medications:

  • ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitor
  • Calcium channel blocker
  • Beta-blocker
  • Thiazine diuretic
  • Renin inhibitor

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