Key Points about Hypertension

  • High blood pressure occurs when there is a high force of blood against the artery walls.
  • Risk factors for high blood pressure include frequent tobacco and alcohol use, older age, chronic stress, having low levels of physical activity, and having a family history of the condition.
  • Hypertension is often treated with diet and lifestyle modifications, as well as medication in some cases.
  • Untreated hypertension can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, heart failure, stroke, aneurysm, and memory problems.
  • People at risk of developing hypertension should see their doctor for yearly blood pressure screenings.  
Common related conditions
Heart (Cardiovascular) Disease

Overview

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a very common condition that occurs when there is a high force of blood against the artery walls. It can result from an existing medical condition (secondary hypertension) or may have no apparent cause (primary hypertension).

Hypertension may be more likely to develop in people who smoke tobacco, are of an older age, have high stress-levels, are overweight, do not exercise regularly, have a high-salt diet, or have a family history of hypertension.

High blood pressure is treated with a combination of diet changes, lifestyle modifications, and medication. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious complications.

Most people should see their doctor for a blood pressure screening once yearly. People at a high risk of developing high blood pressure, or who already have high blood pressure, may need to be seen for more regular screenings.

Hypertension causes

Hypertension may be caused by an existing medical condition or may have no apparent cause.

Hypertension that has no apparent cause is called primary, or essential hypertension. This form of high blood pressure generally develops progressively over time.

Secondary hypertension results from an existing medical condition, and generally is more severe and develops more rapidly. Secondary hypertension may result from:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Medications such as decongestants, birth control pills, and certain prescription drugs
  • Illicit substances such as amphetamines or cocaine
  • Sleep apnea
  • Congenital defects in the blood vessels

Hypertension risk factors

Factors that can increase one’s risk of developing high blood pressure include:

  • Older age
  • Having a family history of high blood pressure
  • Having low levels of physical activity
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Having a diet high in sodium, or low in potassium
  • Having high stress levels
  • Tobacco use
  • Drinking alcohol regularly
  • Having a chronic disease such as diabetes or kidney disease

Hypertension symptoms

There are often no noticeable symptoms of high blood pressure.

Hypertension complications

If left untreated, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and lead to serious complications, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Aneurysm
  • Memory problems or dementia
  • Kidney problems
  • Vision loss
  • Metabolic syndrome

Hypertension prevention

You can lower your risk of developing hypertension by:

  • Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet
  • Getting regular physical activity and staying at a healthy weight
  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol intake

Hypertension diagnosis

Your doctor will measure your blood pressure with a cuff that inflates around your arm.

Blood pressure readings have two numbers, the first of which refers to the pressure in the arteries when the heart is beating. The second number refers to the pressure in the arteries in between heart beats.

A blood pressure reading higher than 130/80 is generally considered high. A reading over 180/120 is generally considered severe.

Usually, a diagnosis of hypertension is not given after just one high reading, as blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day, and in different situations. Multiple readings at different times are often required to give an accurate hypertension diagnosis.

Hypertension treatment

To treat hypertension, your doctor will likely recommend making certain modifications to your lifestyle, such as:

  • Lowering your dietary intake of salt
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Maintaining a healthier diet

Depending on the severity of your hypertension, your doctor may also prescribe medication. There are several medications that can manage high blood pressure. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, their possible causes, and any additional existing medical conditions when determining which medication may be best for you.

Next Steps

Most people should receive a blood pressure reading once a year. If you are at in increased risk of developing hypertension, or if you have already received a hypertension diagnosis, your doctor may recommend that you receive readings more often.