What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is blood pressure that is higher than normal. Your blood pressure changes throughout the day, depending on your daily activities, but having consistently above normal blood pressure (120/80) may result in hypertension and subsequent symptoms. Hypertension is staged as follows:
Stage 1 is systolic pressure (the top number) ranging from 130 to 139 and diastolic (the lower number) ranges from 80 to 89.
Stage 2 is more severe and is when your systolic pressure is 140 or higher and diastolic is 90 or higher.
Hypertensive crisis is when your measurement is higher than 180/120 and you may experience chest pain, vision problems, numbness or weakness and difficulty breathing: You should immediately contact your doctor, call 911, or go to the emergency room.
There are several factors that increase the risk of hypertension such as:
- Your age as hypertension increases as you age and more common in men.
- Your race, as hypertension is more common among African-Americans, often developing earlier than in whites.
- Hypertension tends to run in families.
- Certain conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea.
- Smoking or chewing tobacco.
- Too much salt in your diet.
- Too little potassium in your diet.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
- Not being physically active.
If you have risk factors for hypertension, seeing your Saint John’s Physician Partners doctor to be diagnosed and treated for hypertension is an important part of your overall health and wellness.
Most people with hypertension have no signs or symptoms, even if their blood pressure reaches dangerous levels.
Hypertension Risks and Complications
Hypertension can damage your arteries, making them less elastic and decreasing blood flow and oxygen to your heart. The longer your hypertension is uncontrolled, the greater the damage, including:
Besides asking about your medical history and doing a physical examination, your doctor may order the following test to confirm your hypertension diagnosis:
Lab tests to check your blood and urinalysis, including a cholesterol test.
Blood pressure checks
Blood pressure checks you do at home and keeping a diary of your readings.
24-hour ambulatory monitoring
24-hour ambulatory monitoring with a battery-operated portable device that monitors your blood pressure for 24 to 72 hours.
An electrocardiogram to measure your heart’s electrical activity.
An echocardiogram that uses sound waves to produce images of the heart.
Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes and medications:
- Lifestyle changes such as eating a heart healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking and alcohol use, and carefully monitoring and treating any
- Special procedures.
Working with your doctor, these lifestyle changes can help you better manage your hypertension:
- Eat a heart healthy diet that’s low in salt.
- Limit alcohol.
- Quit smoking.
- Regular physical activity.
- Manage stress.
- Take your medication properly.
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations.
Your doctor may prescribe medications for your hypertension, depending on your particular diagnosis and overall health. Your doctor will discuss the risk and benefits of the medications prescribed so you can make an informed decision.
Medications used to treat hypertension include:
- Diuretics help your kidneys eliminate sodium and water from your body and are one of the first-line drugs used to treat hypertension.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors help relax blood vessels by blocking the formation of a natural chemical that narrows the blood vessels.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) are medications that relax the blood vessels by blocking the action of a natural chemical that narrows blood vessels.
- Calcium channel blockers help relax the muscles of your blood vessels.
- Alpha blockers reduce nerve signals to blood vessels to reduce the effect of natural chemicals that narrow blood vessels.
- Beta blockers make your heart beat more slowly and with less force thus reducing your blood pressure.
- Aldosterone antagonists block the effect of a natural chemical that can lead to salt and fluid buildup.
- Renin inhibitors slow the production of renin, an enzyme that increases blood pressure.
- Vasodilators work on the muscle in the walls of your arteries to prevent the muscles from tightening and narrowing your arteries.
- Central-acting agents prevent your brain from signaling your nervous system to increase your heart rate and narrow your blood vessels.