Generally speaking, hypertension is increased force of your blood flow against your artery walls. The force eventually results in health problems. Two factors most directly affect your high blood pressure: how much blood your heart pumps and how narrow your arteries are. The higher the amount of blood pumping through a smaller space (narrow arteries) raises your blood pressure.
There are two kinds of blood pressure:
- Primary (essential) Hypertension
In this case, there is no identifiable cause and tends to develop gradually over many years.
- Secondary Hypertension
This type of hypertension is caused by a particular underlying condition. It appears suddenly (acute onset) and tends to cause higher blood pressure than primary hypertension.
High blood pressure is not necessarily obvious, even when your blood pressure is dangerously high. In some cases, hypertension might cause headaches or shortness of breath, but these symptoms are also cause by many other conditions and only show up after hypertension is dangerously far along.
It’s best to monitor your blood pressure regularly. After you turn 18, it’s a good practice to ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading every two years. After 40, or if you’re at higher risk for high blood pressure, request a blood pressure reading on a yearly basis.
Your doctor will take your blood pressure multiple times across a series of appointments prior to arriving at a diagnosis of hypertension. This is to make sure the readings are consistent and rule out normal variations in blood pressure (which can sometimes be due to anxiety over a doctor visit). Even after the readings have been taken, your doctor may recommend a 24-hour blood pressure monitoring test, among others, just to verify the presence of high blood pressure.
As with many cardiovascular diseases, lifestyle changes will be important to your treatment. Reduced salt intake can help, along with increased exercise and stress management. Lowering your weight can help, and in some cases you’ll be prescribed medications to assist in lowering your blood pressure.
Continued alterations to your behaviors will be critical to successful treatment of your hypertension. This will involve:
- A low salt, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet
- Regular Exercise
- No smoking
- Reduced alcohol
- Lowered, healthy weight