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High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure – also referred to as HBP or hypertension – is when the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is consistently too high. Blood pressure is determined by both how much blood your heart pumps, and how much resistance there is to blood flow in your arteries.

Causes For most adults, there’s no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure, called primary (or essential) hypertension, tends to develop slowly over a period of many years.

Others have high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition. This is known as secondary hypertension. It tends to appear suddenly and cause higher blood pressure than primary hypertension does. An array of conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Kidney problems
  • Adrenal gland tumors
  • Thyroid problems
  • Congenital defects in blood vessels
  • Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs
  • Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines

SymptomsMost people with high blood pressure – even at dangerously high levels – experience no signs or symptoms. A few may experience headaches, shortness of breath, or nosebleeds, but these symptoms are not specific and often don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached critical, life-threatening levels.

Diagnosis Your doctor will usually utilize and inflatable arm cuff to measure your blood pressure. Blood pressure measurements fall into four general categories:

  • Normal blood pressure – below 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Elevated blood pressure – systolic pressure ranging from 120 to 129 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure below 80 mm Hg. Elevated blood pressure tends to get worse over time unless steps are taken to control it.
  • Stage 1 hypertension – systolic pressure ranging from 130 to 139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89 mm Hg.
  • Stage 2 hypertension – more severe hypertension, stage 2 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher.

TreatmentLifestyle changes are very important for controlling high blood pressure. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes including:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet with reduced salt
  • Adding in regular physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if you're overweight or obese
  • Limiting your alcohol intake

Sometimes lifestyle changes alone aren't enough. In addition the above, your doctor may recommend medication to lower your blood pressure.