Essential Hypertension

High Blood Pressure

What is Hypertension?

Hypertension is high blood pressure. Hypertension affects over 50 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 55. Untreated, hypertension affects the heart, the brain and the kidneys. Individuals with hypertension often die prematurely.

A specific cause can rarely be found, though family history is often a precursor. Obesity, high alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, a high-stress occupation or environment, and the use of certain anti-inflammatory drugs can precipitate or worsen high blood pressure in predisposed individuals. An estimated ten to fifteen percent of white adults and twenty to thirty percent of black adults develop high blood pressure, which is a known contributor to the risk of stroke and heart disease.

How is it diagnosed?

Hypertension signs and symptoms

Usually no symptoms unless disease is severe. Following are symptoms of a hypertensive crisis:

  • Headache; drowsiness; confusion.
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
  • Coughing blood; nosebleeds.
  • Severe shortness of breath.

History: A family history is often present. Individuals can have mild to moderately high blood pressure without being aware of it. As it worsens, high blood pressure can cause headaches, fatigue, confusion, blurred vision, and occasionally nausea and vomiting.

Physical exam: Upper (systolic) and lower (diastolic) blood pressure readings may be elevated. Two blood pressure readings will often be taken in a single visit, one while the individual is standing and the second while the individual is lying down. Other findings may include retinal changes, irregular heartbeats or sounds, irregular pulse, blurred vision.

Tests: Basic laboratory tests for a diagnosis of hypertension typically include a blood count, urinalysis, renal function test and measurement of blood sugar after fasting. Further tests are usually used to rule out possible underlying causes of hypertension. If hypertensive cardiovascular disease is suspected, an echocardiogram or a chest x-ray to closely examine the left ventricle of the heart may be ordered.

How is hypertension treated?

Treatment varies according to the readings obtained in a blood pressure evaluation and whether any risk factors are present. Individuals with high normal or elevated blood pressures can often be treated successfully with individual lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, exercise, decrease in salt intake and alcohol consumption, and stopping smoking.

More severe hypertension with accompanying risk factors typically calls for drug therapy (such as diuretics and beta-blockers, and occasionally calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, and alpha-blockers) to reduce readings to lower, safer levels. The choice of the drug or drugs is usually based on the individual's age, race, sex and lifestyle, and the presence of any other illness or disorder.

Medications

  • Antihypertensive medications can reduce blood pressure if more conservative measures don't work.
  • Don't take non-prescription cold and sinus remedies. These contain drugs, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, that raise blood pressure.
Information Brand Generic Label Rating
Lasix 40mg Lasix Furosemide On-Label

Aldactone (Spironolactone), Lozol (Indapamide), Altace (Ramipril), Cardura (Doxazosin), Tenormin (Atenolol)

Activity

Normal activity with exercise program at least 3 times a week. This helps reduce stress and maintain normal body weight; it may lower blood pressure. Seek medical advice (from your doctor or an exercise physiologist) about an exercise prescription.

Diet

  • Low-salt diet.
  • Reducing diet if overweight.

What might complicate it?

Complications include heart attack, stroke or renal failure.

Predicted outcome

Untreated, hypertension can result in death and is known to shorten lives by ten to twenty years. Approximately 95% of individuals are able to lower their blood pressure at least moderately by making certain lifestyle changes, and often dramatically with drug therapy. If treatment is successful, the individual may be able to lower the drug dosage to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Alternatives

Treatable causes of hypertension such as pheochromocytoma, primary aldosteronism, severe cases of Cushing's syndrome and acromegaly should be ruled out.

Appropriate specialists

Internist, cardiologist, dietitian, and endocrinologist.

Seek Medical Attention

  • You or a family member has symptoms of a hypertensive crisis.
  • Chest pain occurs. This may be an emergency. Seek help immediately!
  • Symptoms of high-blood pressure continue despite treatment.

Last updated 21 December 2011


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