What is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?

What is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?

Blood pressure is the force a person’s blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels that carry it throughout the body. When this force is too high, it is called hypertension or high blood pressure. Hypertension is a common condition and primary risk factor for several other health problems.

Types of Hypertension


There are two broad types of hypertension, differentiated by the cause of the condition:

  • Another health problem or a temporary condition does not cause primary high blood pressure. The most common causes of this type of high blood pressure are aging and unhealthy lifestyle choices.
  • Secondary high blood pressure results from another health issue like a hormonal or thyroid problem. It can also be caused by a temporary change like pregnancy, a high-stress situation, or by medication or drug you are taking.

Stages of Hypertension


A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers. The first and higher of the two is your systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure exerted when your heart beats. The second is your diastolic blood pressure, which is the pressure exerted during the pause between heartbeats.

A person’s blood pressure is considered elevated when their reading is between 120-129/less than 80. A reading higher than this is considered a sign of hypertension.

The condition is divided into the below further stages:

  • Stage 1 is a reading of 130-139/80-89 mmHg
  • Stage 2 is a reading of 140/90 mmHg or more
  • Hypertensive crisis is a reading of 180/120 or higher. You should seek medical attention immediately at this stage.

Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure


Most often, high blood pressure doesn’t cause symptoms.

When symptoms of high blood pressure do occur, they can include the following:

What Causes High Blood Pressure?


For most adults, hypertension doesn’t have a singular cause and develops over the course of many years. However, certain risk factors, many of which are avoidable, increase the likelihood that you will develop high blood pressure.

Risk factors for hypertension include:

  • Age. The risk of hypertension increases as you age. Those over the age of 55 are at higher risk than younger people.
  • Poor diet. Consuming too much sodium in your diet can cause fluid retention, which increases blood pressure. Eating too little potassium can increase your risk as well since potassium helps regulate the level of sodium in the body.
  • Lack of exercise. Exercise helps improve your cardiovascular health and lower your heart rate. A higher heart rate means the heart is exerting more pressure on your blood vessels.
  • Obesity. Being overweight increases the amount of blood you need, which in turn increases the pressure on your blood vessels.
  • Race. People of African heritage are more likely to develop hypertension than people of other races.
  • Heavy drinking. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the heart. Having more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men can increase your blood pressure.
  • Tobacco use. Using tobacco temporarily raises your blood pressure, and the chemicals found in tobacco can cause your blood vessel walls to narrow.
  • High-stress level. When you’re feeling stressed, your body releases hormones that cause your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow, which leads to higher blood pressure.

Complications of Hypertension


If hypertension is left untreated, it can give rise to several other medical conditions. These health problems include:

  • Stroke. High blood pressure can burst or block arteries carrying blood to the brain, which leads to a lack of oxygen.
  • Heart attack. Hypertension can block arteries carrying blood to the heart, leading to heart failure.
  • Kidney disease. The kidney relies on many blood vessels to filter toxins from the body, and hypertension can prevent enough oxygen from reaching these blood vessels.
  • Eye damage. Hypertension can affect the blood vessels leading to the retina, resulting in vision problems.
  • Vascular dementia. Impaired blood flow caused by hypertension can cause problems with judgment, reasoning, planning, and other brain functions.

How to Prevent High Blood Pressure


There are many ways you can reduce your risk of developing hypertension. Most are lifestyle changes that can have a huge impact on your risk. The damage from poor lifestyle decisions is cumulative, so it’s important to rectify problematic behaviors before the harm continues to build up.

Prevention methods for hypertension include:

  • Checking your blood pressure levels regularly. Getting a reading is the only way to know if you have elevated or high blood pressure
  • Eating a healthy diet. Avoid foods high in salt and fat, and ensure you are getting the recommended potassium level
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Not smoking and not drinking or limiting alcohol
  • Maintaining a good sleep schedule
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Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Hypertension Care

At NewYork-Presbyterian, our physicians are highly trained in recognizing and developing care plans for patients with hypertension and other cardiovascular conditions. By monitoring each person’s individual situation and customizing recommendations and treatments, our team can offer effective and comprehensive care for hypertension and other conditions.