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Hypertension and its symptoms

Nearly half of all adult Americans have high blood pressure. That’s approximately 116 million people. Hypertension is a very treatable disease and yet takes the lives of more than 500,000 people–each year!

What is Hypertension and its effect on your body?

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. A healthy adult’s blood pressure will have a systolic blood pressure up to 120 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure of lower than 80 mmHg. There are two diagnostic stages:

  1. Stage One is classified with a systolic blood pressure of 130-139 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure range of 80-89 mmHg.
  2. Stage Two is over 140 mmHg systolic and over 90 mmHg for diastolic.

How to read your blood pressure.

There are two numbers that make up your blood pressure reading.

Systolic Blood Pressure is the pressure exerted when the heart pumps blood into the arteries. Systolic pressure is the top number of the fraction systolic/diastolic.

Diastolic Blood Pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom portion of the blood pressure fraction.

Over time, untreated Hypertension can affect the body in significant ways. 

Arteries are flexible and can expand and contract as needed. Over time, the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries can damage the cells lining your arteries. The damaged cells will cause your arteries to be less flexible and constrict blood flow. The constant pressure of blood running through weakened arteries may cause aneurysms—an aneurysm forms when the weakened arterial wall bulges. The Aorta is a common location for aneurysms to form. 

Aneurysms can go unnoticed; however, they can be life-threatening when they rupture. Your heart has to work overtime when a patient has high blood pressure. Hypertension can lead to coronary artery disease, enlarged left ventricle-the part of the heart that pumps blood to the body, or even heart failure (heart attacks).

High blood pressure can also damage your vision. Over time, the tiny blood vessels in your eyes can be overstressed and impede blood flow to your eyes. Retinopathy is common among patients with Hypertension.

Hypertension is one of the leading causes of kidney failure. Damaged blood vessels impede kidney function and ultimately cause kidney failure, needing dialysis, or a kidney transplant.

Brain functions are also affected by high blood pressure. Strokes and Transient ischemic attacks (TIA, or sometimes called ministrokes) are common among people with Hypertension. When the blood flow to the brain is compromised, patients may also experience dementia and other cognitive impairments.

What are common symptoms of Hypertension?

One of the biggest challenges of identifying Hypertension is recognizing the symptoms. One-third of those diagnosed with Hypertension didn’t know they had high blood pressure. 

Stage one hypertension usually goes undetected unless your Primary Care Physician sees you. 

Stage two hypertension or more severe Hypertension may present some symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Vision issues
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pounding in your chest, neck, or ears
  • Nosebleeds
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness, nervousness, sweating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Facial flushing

If you are experiencing any of the following, call your physician or 911.

  • Severe chest pain
  • Severe headaches accompanied by confusion or blurred vision
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Unresponsiveness

What causes Hypertension?

The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known. However, studies have shown that several variables can contribute to Hypertension. These risk factors can include but aren’t limited to:

  • Genetics – You may have a family history of Hypertension.
  • Age – Your blood pressure can increase with age.
  • Race – People of African heritage may develop Hypertension faster than Caucasian folk.
  • Diet – Too much sodium or too little potassium can contribute to Hypertension. Alcohol consumption can lead to Hypertension.
  • Stress – High levels of stress can increase blood pressure. 
  • Tobacco – Smoking and chewing tobacco are directly linked to Hypertension.
  • Sedentary – Not getting enough exercise can contribute to Hypertension.
  • Obesity – Studies link obesity with a higher occurrence of Hypertension.
  • Other diseases – Diabetes, sleep apnea, and some kidney diseases can increase your chance of developing Hypertension.

What can I do to avoid Hypertension?

The best way to avoid getting high blood pressure is to see your Primary Care physician regularly and follow their advice. Hypertension can be managed when diagnosed early. Some common changes patients can make to help avoid high blood pressure are:

  • Health Maintenance – See your Primary Care physician at least annually.
  • Diet – Change your diet to include more vegetables and less red meat, and fried foods. Reduce your sodium (salt) intake. Cut back on the amount of alcohol you consume.
  • Exercise Even taking a walk in the evening is better than sitting on the sofa. Exercise combined with diet can greatly improve the odds of not having health issues in the future.
  • Relaxation – Meditation, yoga, or changing stress-inducing situations in your life can help mitigate the risk of high blood pressure.

Some common treatments for Hypertension.

Physicians will want to try the least invasive treatment program, which starts with lifestyle changes before medication intervention in the case of Hypertension. General treatment approaches for both stages of Hypertension begin with lifestyle changes like weight reduction, dietary changes, limiting alcohol and sodium, exercise, and stress reduction. Your doctor may prescribe medication if lifestyle changes are ineffective.

There are a variety of medications available to treat high blood pressure. Each one works a little differently and comes with unique side effects. Your doctor can work with your Clinical Pharmacist to prescribe the best medication for your specific case. It’s important when taking new medications to follow the prescribed dosage and instructions. Feedback on how the medication works and any side effects can help your doctor adjust your medication program. Some medications work better when taken at certain times of the day, so be sure to take your medication at the time your doctor prescribes.

Treating Hypertension is most effective when treatment includes both lifestyle and medication therapies. When properly treated patients can live symptom-free, productive lives.

I think I have high blood pressure. What should I do?

As with any medical concerns, you should schedule an appointment with your Primary Care physician who can examine you for high blood pressure. You may be asked to provide routine blood pressure checks in order to establish a baseline. Your doctor and care team will work with you to create a treatment plan to address your health issues. The important thing to remember is that hypertension is not something to ignore.

Don’t have a Primary Care provider? Visit our Find your doctor page and schedule an appointment for your medical exam today!

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