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Hypertension

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is also knows as high blood pressure.  It occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is too strong.  This can lead to damage in your arteries, heart and kidneys.  Unfortunately, unless you have your blood pressure taken on a regular basis, you may have no idea that you have hypertension.  Symptoms only occur when the pressure is extremely high. 

Symptoms

Generally there are no noticeable signs or symptoms of high blood pressure.  Nearly 1/3 of the people suffering from hypertension do not know they have it.  Getting your blood pressure checked on a regular basis is the often the only way to detect hypertension.  Symptoms of high blood pressure do not occur until your blood pressure is very high.  These symptoms include:

  • Severe headache
  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Changes in vision
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood in the urine

All of these signs warrant immediate medical attention.  High blood pressure can be a precursor to a heart attack or stroke.

Diagnosis

Hypertension is most easily diagnosed by taking a blood pressure reading with a blood pressure cuff.  However, blood pressure may be raised due to temporary stress levels, such as rushing to the doctor’s office or nervousness over the visit.  Readings done over time, either during the course of the visit or over several days or weeks can give the doctor a better picture of your overall blood pressure levels.  Be sure to list any medications you take and avoid caffeine before your visit.

A physician will also take into account any risk factors.  A thorough family history and physical examination can help pinpoint current problems or your chances of developing other, related conditions.

Risk Factors

Hypertension is tied to many other ailments.  Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol

 Treatment Options

If you have been diagnosed with hypertension your doctor will suggest the best course of action for your situation.  Treatment generally starts with a look at the patient’s lifestyle.  Diet and exercise regimens can help lower blood pressure and lead to a general improvements in your health and well being.  Lifestyle changes include:

  • Smoking cessation (quitting smoking)
  • Losing weight if you are deemed overweight or obese
  • Eating a healthy diet (DASH diet)
  • Reducing sodium intake
  • Exercising regularly
  • Cutting down on alcohol use

Along with these changes your doctor may recommend certain medications.  These medications include:

  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Beta-blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning a new diet or exercise routine or about any concerns over medications.

Resources

Click on the following links to get more information on hypertension.

Guide to lowering high blood pressure:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

The American Heart Association:

http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200000