The heart pumps blood into the arteries or blood vessels, which carry the blood throughout the body. Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the blood vessels. High blood pressure, also known as Hypertension, is a common medical condition in which the blood pressure increases to unhealthy levels. It rarely has noticeable symptoms. Long-term high blood pressure can cause damage to your arteries and blood vessels and can lead to severe health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic blood pressure (the higher number) is the pressure in the arteries as the heart contracts and pumps blood around your body. The diastolic pressure (the lower number) is the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes and refills with blood. The ranges for adults are:
- Normal blood pressure: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
- Prehypertension: 120-139 over 80-89
- Stage 1 hypertension: 140-159 over 90-99
- Stage 2 hypertension: 160 and above over 100 and above
Risk factors for hypertension
It is not always clear what causes high blood pressure, but certain factors may increase your risk:
- Age: The risk of hypertension increases as you grow older. With age, blood pressure can increase gradually as the arteries become stiffer and narrower due to plaque build-up.
- Gender: Men are more prone to hypertension at a younger age, while women are more at risk at older ages.
- Family history: If your parents or other close blood relatives have hypertension, there is an increased chance that you’ll get it too.
- Being overweight or obese: Carrying too much weight puts an extra strain on your heart and circulatory system, that increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
- Chronic health conditions: Certain conditions may increase your risk of hypertension, such as high cholesterol, kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea.
Other risk factors include:
- Lack of physical activity
- Too much salt in the diet
- Too little potassium in the diet
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Drinking too much alcohol
- High levels of stress
- Certain medications
Hypertension types and causes
There are two types of hypertension. Each type has a different cause.
Primary hypertension is also known as essential hypertension. A majority of people with high blood pressure have primary hypertension. This type of hypertension has no identifiable cause and develops gradually over many years. It is not caused by any health condition or disease. A combination of factors may play a role in its development. These include age, gender, family history, and lifestyle-related factors like high salt intake, lack of physical activity, obesity, stress, and smoking.
For some people, high blood pressure is caused by an underlying condition. This type of high blood pressure is called secondary hypertension. It often occurs suddenly and can become more severe than primary hypertension. Numerous conditions that cause secondary hypertension include:
- Kidney disease
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Certain endocrine tumors
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Congenital heart defects
- Side effects of medications, like birth control pills
- Alcohol abuse or chronic use
Most people with hypertension have no symptoms, and it is therefore called “the silent killer.” If undetected, it can cause damage to the cardiovascular system and internal organs, such as:
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- Kidney failure
- Aneurysm (bulge in the wall of an artery)
- Eye damage
It may take years for hypertension to reach levels severe enough that symptoms become noticeable. Even then, these symptoms may be caused by other issues. A few people may experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
These symptoms don’t occur in everybody with hypertension. Ignoring your blood pressure, because you think a certain sign or symptom will alert you to the problem, is taking a dangerous chance with your life. The best way to know if you have hypertension is to get your blood pressure checked regularly.