What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure (hypertension) occurs when the force of the blood against the artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems like heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood the heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood the heart pumps and the narrower the arteries, the higher the blood pressure.
The good news is that high blood pressure can be easily detected. If you know you have it, you can work to control it.
SIGNS or Symptoms
Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even with dangerously high levels. Get a blood pressure reading at least every 2 years starting at age 20. Children age 3 and older will likely get a reading as a part of a yearly checkup.
There are two types of high blood pressure. Primary hypertension tends to develop gradually over many years. Secondary hypertension tends to appear suddenly and causes higher blood pressure than does primary hypertension.
Various conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including:
- Kidney problems
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Congenital defects in blood vessels
- Medications — includes over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription
- Illegal drugs
- Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age.
- Race. Common among blacks.
- Family history
- Being overweight or obese
- Physical inactivity
- Tobacco use
- Too much sodium, potassium or Vitamin D in the diet
- Drinking too much alcohol
- High stress levels
- Chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea
- Excessive pressure on artery walls can damage blood vessels and body organs
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke; aneurysm; heart failure; weakened and narrowed blood vessels in the kidneys; thickened, narrowed or torn blood vessels in the eyes; metabolic syndrome; trouble with memory or understanding
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods. Eat more potassium-rich foods and less saturated fat and total fat.
- Decrease salt intake
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Increase physical activity
- Limit alcohol intake
- Don't smoke
- Reduce stress
- Monitor blood pressure
Diet and exercise are best for lowering blood pressure. The research supports that some supplements may also decrease it. They include:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Blond psyllium
- Cod-liver oil
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Chobanian AV, et al. The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. New England Journal of Medicine. 2003;289:2560.
High blood pressure causes. American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4603. Accessed June 8, 2010.
High blood pressure, Factors that contribute to. American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4650. Accessed June 8, 2010.
Kaplan NM, et al. Treatment of hypertension in blacks. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed June 8, 2010.
Wang TJ, et al. Vitamin D deficiency and risk of cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2008;117:503.
Kaplan NM, et al. Prehypertension and borderline hypertension. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed June 8, 2010.
Calhoun DA, et al. Resistant hypertension: Diagnosis, evaluation and treatment. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Professional Education Committee of the Council for High Blood Pressure Research. Hypertension. 2008;117:e510.
Blood pressure-lowering drugs. American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=159. Accessed June 8, 2010.
Lopez L, et al. Lifestyle modification counseling for hypertensive patients: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004. American Journal of Hypertension. 2009;22:325.
Villegas R, et al. The cumulative effect of core lifestyle behaviours on the prevalence of hypertension and dyslipidemia. BMC Public Health. 2008;8:210.
Your guide to lowering blood pressure with DASH. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf. Accessed June 8, 2010.
Appel LJ, et al. Dietary approaches to prevent and treat hypertension: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Hypertension. 2006;47:296.
Pandic S, et al. Device-guided breathing exercises in the treatment of hypertension — perceptions and effects. CVD Prevention and Control. 2008;3:163.
Natural medicines in the clinical management of hypertension. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed April 28, 2010.
Home blood pressure monitoring. American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=576. Accessed March 9, 2010.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm. Accessed Feb. 18, 2011