Hypertension is the condition of having high blood pressure. It is very common and affects around 50 million Americans of which about 30% are not yet diagnosed (NHLBI). Hypertension is an under-diagnosed condition because it causes damage to the body with no symptoms or only mild symptoms. It has been called a "silent killer" for this reason.
Correct diagnosis of the cause of high blood pressure is important. Most cases of chronic hypertension are "primary hypertension" but a small percentage are "secondary hypertension" where the rise in blood pressure is caused by another underlying condition. Hypertension during pregnancy is another common special case; it is called gestational hypertension, preeclampsia or eclampsia depending on its severity.
What causes Hypertension ?
Though the exact causes of hypertension are usually unknown, there are several factors that have been highly associated with the condition.
- Obesity or being overweight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of physical activity
- High levels of salt intake (sodium sensitivity)
- Insufficient calcium, potassium, and magnesium consumption
- Vitamin D deficiency
- High levels of alcohol consumption
- Medicines such as birth control pills
- Genetics and a family history of hypertension
- Chronic kidney disease
- Adrenal and thyroid problems or tumors
What Are Symptoms Of Hypertension ?
There is no guarantee that a person with hypertension will present any symptoms of the condition. About 33% of people actually do not know that they have high blood pressure, and this ignorance can last for years. For this reason, it is advisable to undergo periodic blood pressure screenings even when no symptoms are present.
Extremely high blood pressure may lead to some symptoms, however, and these include:
- Severe headaches
- Fatigue or confusion
- Problems with vision
- Chest pains
- Breathing problems
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blood in the urine
How Is Hypertension Treated ?
High blood pressure may be treated medically, by changing lifestyle factors, or a combination of the two. Important lifestyle changes include losing weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthful diet, reducing sodium intake, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol consumption.
Medical options to treat hypertension include several classes of drugs. ACE inhibitors, ARB drugs, beta-blockers, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, alpha-blockers, and peripheral vasodilators are the primary drugs used in treatment. These medications may be used alone or in combination, and some are only used in combination. In addition, some of these drugs are preferred to others depending on the characteristics of the patient (diabetic, pregnant, etc.).
If blood pressure is successfully lowered, it is wise to have frequent checkups and to take preventive measures to avoid a relapse of hypertension.
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