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Understanding Hypertension


Hypertension or high blood pressure occurs when the blood vessels of the arterial system become constricted forcing the heart to work harder to pump the blood to the tissues of the body. This pressure is determined when the blood pressure is measured. Hypertension is present when the pressure is consistently greater than 140/90. It is normal for the blood pressure to increase during times of stress such as anxiety, pain, fear and anger.

Essential Hypertension is the most common type. The cause is unclear but there are a number of proposed mechanisms. One theory is related to increase neural activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the blood vessels resulting in increased constriction on the arteries. Another suggests an increase in the circulating amounts of substances like angiotensin II and mineral-corticoids, which also affect the constrictive activity of the vessels. Other theories suggest a genetic role and/or a decrease in the renal cell mass (nephrons), which then result in hypertension. Obviously much more research is needed to further elucidate any specific causes.

Secondary Hypertension results from intrinsic and extrinsic causes. Kidney problems are the major cause. Renal artery stenosis, which is narrowing of the major artery supplying the kidney, is one condition. Obstruction of the ureter and damage to the kidney from diseases such as diabetes and lupus are other examples. It is important to identify these causes in order to avoid subsequent renal failure. In addition, treating these problems could potentially resolve the hypertension. Other intrinsic problems are related to an overproduction of certain substances that affect the arteries. Examples include tumors that produce adrenaline and over activity of the adrenal glands or the thyroid gland. Finally, medications such as birth control pills and steroids can contribute to the development of hypertension.

Hypertension in its early stages doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms. Many people can have high blood pressure for many years and not have any noticeable symptoms. If the pressure becomes excessively high (>200/100) then symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision and confusion can occur. This is called Malignant Hypertension and could result in stroke, rupture of an aneurysm, and a heart attack. Long term uncontrolled hypertension can lead to damage to the organs of the body. If the heart has to work harder to pump blood, it is likely to fail over time. Heat failure results in disability, diminished quality of life and premature death. Chronic uncontrolled hypertension can also lead to renal failure and a possible need for dialysis, visual impairment and possible blindness, and other organ damage.

Diagnosing and treating hypertension is crucial in identifying potentially life-threatening problems and preventing future problems. Early diagnosis and treatment of hypertension can prevent significant morbidity and premature mortality. Screening is easy; all it takes is a visit to your doctor.

I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:

Live healthy, live well and live long!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Dr. Denise Howard. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Dr. Denise Howard. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dr. Denise Howard for details.

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