Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. High blood pressure causes several dangerous conditions if left untreated, so patients with a tendency to hypertension should have their blood pressure checked regularly as a precaution.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Every time you visit the doctor, you may be asked to roll up your sleeve while a band is placed around your arm and a doctor or nurse pumps air into the band to measure your blood pressure. This measurement includes two readings and is interpreted by your doctor as low, average, or high blood pressure.

Blood pressure readings are an indirect way to determine how much pressure the blood in your body is placing against the walls of the blood vessels as it travels through your body. When pressure is high, the heart has to work harder. Over time, this can result in damage to your organs, kidney failure, stroke or heart attack. One study reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology reports that people with high blood pressure in middle age may be at higher risk for cognitive disorders when elderly.

How Is Blood Pressure Measured?

When a doctor or nurse places a band around your arm, inflates it and takes a blood pressure reading, he or she is actually taking two measurements. The first is called the systolic pressure and measures the highest pressure in the arteries, while the second is called the diastolic pressure and measures the lowest pressure in the arteries. Normal blood pressure should be 120 systolic and 80 diastolic; this figure is reported as 120/80 on your medical chart. Systolic readings of 121 to 139 indicate a tendency to hypertension, while anything over 140 is considered high blood pressure. Similarly, a diastolic reading of 81 to 89 is pre-hypertensive or “borderline” high blood pressure; anything over 90 is considered high.

Of the two, a high diastolic number is more to be feared than a high systolic reading. This is because the diastolic figure represents the pressure when the blood vessels are at rest. This higher this number is, the more strain placed on your body by hypertension.

What Causes Hypertension?

High blood pressure can have many causes. When there is no readily identifiable reason for high blood pressure, it is called essential hypertension. If blood pressure problems are caused by a particular disease such as a tumor, the condition is known as secondary hypertension. Common causes of hypertension include:

  • Smoking – Smoking causes the blood vessels to contract, driving up blood pressure
  • Obesity – People who are overweight often have high blood pressure as the heart must work harder to get blood to all parts of the body
  • Lack of Exercise – Exercise drives blood pressure down because it causes the heart to work more efficiently. In some way that is not understood, the hard work the heart does during aerobic activity does not raise blood pressure but instead causes it to lower
  • Diabetes – Many patients suffering from diabetes also have hypertension
  • High Sodium Intake – People who eat too much salt often have blood pressure problems. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day for a healthy diet
  • Insufficient intake of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin D
  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption – Alcohol can cause long-term damage to the circulatory system and lead to high blood pressure
  • Stress – Those under continual strain and stress often suffer from high blood pressure
  • Certain Medications – Birth control pills have been linked to hypertension, for example
  • Genetics – You may have a family history of hypertension that can put you at greater risk for developing this disease
  • Ethnic Makeup. African Americans have higher rates of hypertension than other races.

How Can I Tell If I Have Hypertension?

About one-third of people who have high blood pressure do not realize they have the condition. The only way to be sure is to undergo regular screenings. However, very high blood pressure may cause these symptoms:

  • Fatigue and confusion
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Vision problems
  • Chest pain and breathing difficulties
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Bloody urine

Can High Blood Pressure Be Treated?

Doctors prescribe several types of drugs to treat high blood pressure, including ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers and vasodilators. However, many people can control their blood pressure through diet and exercise. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly may be all it takes to lower blood pressure to healthy levels.