What is hypertension?

According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 67 million Americans have been diagnosed with it. Millions more may be living with it without knowing. Hypertension is a chronic medical issue, and if left untreated can lead to serious conditions, including stroke and aneurysm.

Hypertension is often referred to as high blood pressure, and can also be referred to as arterial hypertension. As the National Institute of Health puts it, blood pressure is a measurement of the force affecting the artery walls as the heart works to pump blood to circulate it through the body, which makes hypertension a condition characterized by the heart pumping too hard, and too much force being put on the walls of the arteries.

Hypertension can be treated with both medication and lifestyle changes. Left untreated, it causes strain on the heart and can result in hypertensive heart disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, aneurysm, peripheral arterial disease and chronic kidney disease.

What causes hypertension?

There are two types of hypertension: primary and secondary. According to research, primary hypertension makes up 90-95% of all cases. Primary hypertension has no underlying medical cause. Genetics, aging and lifestyle factors all contribute to the development of primary hypertension.

Secondary hypertension is hypertension for which there is an identifiable medical cause. Professor Eoin O’Brien, one of the world’s foremost experts on hypertension, identifies the most common medical causes of secondary hypertension as kidney disease and endocrine disease. Obesity, pregnancy and sleep apnea can also contribute.

Symptoms and treatment

As the American Heart Association is so quick to stress, the reason so many Americans could have hypertension without knowing it is because it has so few symptoms. Hypertension is most commonly identified through blood pressure screening, usually in a doctor’s office or at a pharmacy. Personal blood pressure monitors are also available for purchase.

While hypertension may sound like a silent and rather worrisome condition, the good news is that in many cases it can be prevented or treated with lifestyle changes. The British Hypertension Society recommends maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in regular aerobic exercise, and eating a low-sodium diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and lean protein. Be sure to see your doctor if you are concerned about your blood pressure.

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