What is Hypertension (aka High Blood Pressure)?

Hypertension is defined as a blood pressure reading above 140/90 on 2 or more occasions. This means that the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high.  It affects 1 in 4 American adults.

The American Heart Association provides a guideline for identification of high blood pressure.  Follow this link to check your blood pressure numbers and what they mean.

What are the potential consequences of hypertension?

  • Damage to the heart and coronary arteries, including heart attack, heart disease, congestive heart failure, aortic dissection and atherosclerosis (fatty buildups in the arteries that cause them to harden)
  • Stroke
  • Kidney damage
  • Vision loss
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Memory loss
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Angina
  • Peripheral artery disease

What are the symptoms of hypertension?

Generally there are NO symptoms of hypertension, that is why screening (checking the blood pressure at random times) is so important. If the blood pressure is extremely high (an emergent situation), a person could notice blurred vision, headache, confusion, chest pain, shortness of breath.

Who is at risk for hypertension?

  • Age. The risk of high blood pressure goes up with age. Through about age 45, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are at higher risk after age 65.
  • Race. High blood pressure is more common among blacks, often starting at an earlier age than in whites.
  • Family history. Having family members with high blood pressure increases your risk
    Being overweight or obese. When you weigh more, you need more blood to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the amount of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls and this causes your heart to have to work harder.
  • Not being physically active. People who are not active tend to have a higher heart rate. A high heart rate means your heart must work harder , this means that with each contraction (beat) there is stronger force on your arteries which can lead to high blood pressure.. Lack of physical activity also increases the risk of being overweight.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking or chewing tobacco raises your blood pressure temporarily and immediately. The chemicals in tobacco can also damage the lining of your artery walls. This can lead to narrowing of your arteries which increases your blood pressure. Secondhand smoke also can increase your blood pressure.
  • Too much salt (sodium) in your diet. Too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
  • Too little potassium in your diet. Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. If you don’t get enough potassium in your diet or retain enough potassium, you may accumulate too much sodium in your blood.
  • Too little vitamin D in your diet. It’s uncertain if having too little vitamin D in your diet can lead to high blood pressure. Vitamin D may affect an enzyme produced by your kidneys that affects your blood pressure.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart. Having more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women may affect your blood pressure. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
  • Stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure. If you try to relax by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, you may only increase problems with high blood pressure.
  • Certain chronic conditions. Certain chronic conditions also may increase your risk of high blood pressure, such as kidney disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea.

How do you treat hypertension?

  • Lifestyle modification is #1.
  • Eat a better diet, which may include reducing salt. This generally includes lean proteins, and lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Enjoy regular physical activity.
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage stress
  • Avoid tobacco smoke
  • Comply with medication prescriptions
  • If you drink, limit alcohol.
  • Understand hot tub safety
  • Prescription medications are often needed to control high blood pressure, sometimes more than 1 medication is needed for good control.
  • Regular monitoring of your blood pressure is important to a healthy heart and reduction of your risks.
  • Maintain a relationship with your healthcare provider.
  • Keep informed and know your risks!

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