Hypertension symptoms, causes, and treatments

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a relatively common condition affecting more than 80 million people in the United States. Untreated high blood pressure can result in heart attack, heart failure, stroke, aneurysm, vision loss, and other serious conditions. 

As your heart beats and blood moves through your body, it pushes against the sides of your blood vessels. The strength at which it pushes is your blood pressure. 

Blood pressure is measured with two numbers: the first number is the systolic blood pressure or the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats. The second number is the diastolic blood pressure or the lowest level it reaches when the heart relaxes between beats. 

Symptoms of high blood pressure

Many people with high blood pressure do not have any symptoms at all, which is what makes high blood pressure a silent killer. Some people may have shortness of breath, nosebleeds, or headaches, but these symptoms typically do not appear until high blood pressure has reached a life-threatening level. The best way to monitor your blood pressure is through regular visits with your primary care physician or a specialist. 

Causes of high blood pressure

There are two basic kinds of high blood pressure, which are labeled primary and secondary. Primary hypertension occurs gradually over many years and has no identifiable cause. A family history of primary hypertension may increase your risk. 

Secondary hypertension is usually the result of another condition or the use of certain medications. It tends to appear suddenly and often results in higher levels than primary hypertension. Some of the causes may include sleep apnea, thyroid or kidney problems, and certain defects in blood vessels. Some medications can cause secondary hypertension as well, including birth control pills, cold medicine, and decongestants. 

Risk factors for high blood pressure

There are many factors that can increase your risk of high blood pressure, including: 

  • Age and family history, with hypertension being more common in people over the age of 60.
  • Being overweight or obese, as more blood must be circulated through your body.
  • Not being active enough, which causes your heart to work harder to circulate blood.
  • Alcohol and tobacco use, as prolonged use can damage your arteries and heart.
  • Too much salt or too little potassium. 
  • Stress can temporarily increase blood pressure, but chronic stress may keep it elevated.
  • Certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, and kidney disease.

Treatments for high blood pressure

In some cases, hypertension can be managed through diet and lifestyle changes. This may include reducing your sodium intake, reducing alcohol intake, losing weight, quitting smoking, and changing how you eat. The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a common eating plan that can help reduce high blood pressure. Moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes five to seven days a week can also help reduce your blood pressure. 

There are also many medications your doctor may prescribe, including diuretics, beta-blockers, alpha-blockers, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, and other medications than can help regulate your blood pressure. Your doctor will prescribe a medication based on your specific situation and continue to monitor your condition. 

If you have a family history or other risk factors for hypertension, contact the Oklahoma Heart Hospital today to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians.