What Is Hypertension?

Often called the “silent killer,” high blood pressure may have little to no symptoms. Still, you’ll want to watch out for these warning signs.

Hypertension is dangerous since it usually presents with little or no symptoms. As a result, hypertension is often called the “silent killer.” Luckily, hypertension is fairly easy to diagnose and can be treated with both lifestyle modifications and medication.

Here’s what you need to know about hypertension and how it may present in those affected.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing on a blood vessel wallHaving your blood pressure measured is the primary way to know if your blood pressure is too high. You can check your own blood pressure at home or at a blood pressure machine in pharmacies and some retail stores, or have it measured by a healthcare provider.  That blood pressure reading, measured by a gauge attached to an inflatable blood pressure cuff that wraps around your arm and gently tightens, comes in two different numbers. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure inside your arteries when your heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure inside your arteries when your heart rests.  Healthcare providers read your blood pressure in systolic over diastolic blood pressure format. For example, 120 over 80 (120/80) is considered the normal range for blood pressure.

Hypertension Symptoms

Hypertension often is asymptomatic, meaning that it does not produce symptoms. This is why it often goes unnoticed. However, some patients may show signs, such as stroke-like symptoms, chest pain, and shortness of breath. There are three “inconclusively related symptoms” of hypertension that are not always caused by it: blood spots in the eyes, facial flushing, and dizziness.

Blood Spots in the Eyes

This condition is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It is more common in people with diabetes or hypertension.

The blood spots appear on the whites of the eye. The spots may seem alarming, but they usually heal on their own within a few days or weeks.

Facial Flushing

A red face from hypertension happens when blood vessels in the face dilate. While facial flushing isn’t directly caused by hypertension, it may be related to blood pressure that is higher than normal.

Dizziness

Dizziness is a symptom that may be related to hypertension. Do not ignore sudden onset dizziness, loss of coordination and balance, and trouble walking. Those symptoms can indicate a stroke, for which hypertension is the leading cause.

Symptoms of Hypertensive Crisis

A hypertensive crisis is when blood pressure rises quickly and severely and reads 180/120 or higher. Readings in that range can lead to organ damage, heart attack, stroke, or loss of consciousness.

Symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Back pain
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Change in vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Severe headache
  • Nosebleeds
  • Severe anxiety

Try relaxing for five minutes and then retake a reading if you get a high blood pressure reading but do not have any symptoms. Seek urgent medical care if the second reading is still 180/120 or greater.

What Causes Hypertension?

Hypertension often develops over time. Lifestyle factors, certain health conditions, genetics, and family history can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Lifestyle choices that can increase your risk include:

  • Not getting regular physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating a diet that is too high in sodium and too low in potassium. Certain health conditions or statuses—like diabetes, obesity, and pregnancy—can also result in high blood pressure.

How To Prevent High Blood Pressure

Regularly check your blood pressure and listen to a healthcare provider if they advise you to lower it.

Unlike other health conditions, you cannot count on a symptom to signal that your blood pressure is dangerously high. Keeping your blood pressure under control consistently is essential, especially if a healthcare provider suggests you need to.

Lifestyle changes are recommended for everyone with high blood pressure. Medication is often needed as well, and a number of very effective medications are available on a prescription basis. Your clinician may even recommend a combination of blood pressure medications, based on your individual case.

Quit Smoking

Consider quitting if you smoke. Smoking can damage your heart and blood vessels. Nicotine raises blood pressure, and breathing in carbon monoxide when lighting up reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry.

Limit Alcohol

Make sure not to drink alcohol excessively. The recommended limit is no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.

Exercise Regularly

Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises, such as brisk walking or bicycling, weekly.11 For example, you could do at least 30 minutes of activity five days a week.

Limit Your Salt and Up Your Potassium Intakes

Too much sodium in your diet can raise your blood pressure. Limit your sodium intake if you have high blood pressure. Eat whole foods and limit or avoid processed foods since they are high in sodium.

Having enough potassium in your diet is also important. Increasing your potassium intake can help you lower your blood pressure if it is high.12 Whole foods high in potassium include bananas, potatoes, beans, and yogurt.

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is important for overall health. Adults should aim for at least seven hours per night.

Additionally, try to lower your stress levels as much as possible. Getting a good night’s rest can be helpful, as can taking time to unwind each day with activities you enjoy.

A Quick Review

High blood pressure, or hypertension, happens when force increases blood on blood vessel walls. Hypertension does not usually have symptoms. Therefore, regularly checking your blood pressure is essential to confirm that it’s in a healthy range.   Different factors, like genetics and lifestyle, can increase the chance of high blood pressure. Still, you can make changes to prevent high blood pressure, like getting regular exercise and getting enough sleep.

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