Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a chronic condition caused when the blood exerts too much pressure on artery walls. Hypertension usually develops over time and can put an individual at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, vascular disease, aneurysms, heart failure, and vascular dementia. Hypertension can also affect the brain and eyes. Essentially, hypertension makes arteries less elastic over time. Blood pressure is measured with 2 numbers; the first number is systolic pressure, meaning the blood pressure while the heart is pumping, while the second number is diastolic pressure, meaning the blood pressure while the heart is at rest. Ideal blood pressure rests anywhere between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.
Hypertension can be caused by underlying conditions such as kidney disease or thyroid disease. It can also be caused by certain medications or drug use, specifically cocaine or amphetamines. Risk factors for hypertension include family history of hypertension, age (over 65), race, obesity, lack of exercise, tobacco use, high sodium or low potassium diet, stress, kidney disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, excessive alcohol consumption, and/or inadequate sleep.
Hypertension usually doesn’t present with any symptoms except at severe, life-threatening blood pressure levels. The only way to be diagnosed with hypertension is by having your blood pressure taken at your local clinic or doctor’s office. In severe cases, hypertension can cause headache, shortness of breath, or nosebleeds.
Hypertension can be treated to lifestyle changes and/or medication prescribed by a healthcare professional. Lifestyle changes include eating a heart healthy low-sodium diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, managing stress, and monitoring blood pressure at home. Healthcare professionals may also prescribe medication such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, or diuretics among others.
The best way to avoid hypertension is to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat a heart healthy diet, manage stress, avoid excess alcohol consumption, avoid smoking, control underlying conditions, get an adequate amount of sleep, avoid excess caffeine, and visit a doctor regularly.
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