High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) At A Glance
High blood pressure (hypertension) is designated as either essential (primary) hypertension or secondary hypertension and is defined as a consistently elevated blood pressure exceeding 140/90 mm Hg.
In essential hypertension (95% of people with hypertension), no specific cause is found, while secondary hypertension (5% of people with hypertension) is caused by an abnormality somewhere in the body, such as in the kidney, adrenal gland, or aortic artery.
Essential hypertension may run in some families and occurs more often in the African American population, although the genes for essential hypertension have not yet been identified.
High salt intake, obesity, lack of regular exercise, excessive alcohol or coffee intake, and smoking may all adversely affect the outlook for the health of an individual with hypertension.
High blood pressure is called "the silent killer" because it often causes no symptoms for many years, even decades, until it finally damages certain critical organs.
Poorly controlled hypertension ultimately can cause damage to blood vessels in the eye, thickening of the heart muscle and heart attacks, hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), kidney failure, and strokes.
Heightened public awareness and screening of the population are necessary to detect hypertension early enough so it can be treated before critical organs are damaged.
Lifestyle adjustments in diet and exercise and compliance with medication regimes are important factors in determining the outcome for people with hypertension.
Several classes of anti-hypertensive medications are available, including ACE inhibitors, ARB drugs, beta-blockers, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, alpha-blockers, and peripheral vasodilators.
Most anti-hypertensive medications can be used alone or in combination: some are used only in combination; some are preferred over others in certain specific medical situations; and some are not to be used (contraindicated) in other situations.
The goal of therapy for hypertension is to bring the blood pressure down to 140/85 in the general population and to even lower levels in diabetics, African Americans, and people with certain chronic kidney diseases.
Screening, diagnosing, treating, and controlling hypertension early in its course can significantly reduce the risk of developing strokes, heart attacks, or kidney failure.