Frequently Asked Questions
What is hypertension?
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure (HBH). It is not an indication of anxiety, tension, or having a high-strung personality.
Your heart pumps blood into the arteries and throughout the body. The blood brings needed oxygen and nutrients to all the body's organs. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the inner walls of your arteries as it circulates throughout your body.
Our blood pressure rises and falls continually in order to meet the ever-changing needs of our bodies. When blood pressure stays elevated for long periods, a number of potentially serious health conditions may result, including: stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, atherosclerosis, and eye disease. The good news is that high blood pressure is treatable.
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
Many people who have high blood pressure experience no symptoms. In fact, you can go for years having high blood pressure without knowing it. That's why untreated high blood pressure is sometimes called "the silent killer."
If you have headaches, dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, and chest discomfort, it doesn't mean that you have high blood pressure. Many people have these symptoms for other reasons. It is always wise to report symptoms to your doctor as well as to have your blood pressure regularly checked by a health professional. That is the only way to know if you have high blood pressure.
Are there factors that contribute to high blood pressure?
Although you may not know the exact cause of your high blood pressure, there are several factors that may contribute to it. Some of these factors are beyond your control, but some can be controlled by changing certain aspects of your lifestyle.
The factors you can't control that may contribute to your high blood pressure:
- Heredity (African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure than people of other ethnic and racial backgrounds)
- Gender (Men are generally more likely to have hypertension.)
Factors within your control that can affect your blood pressure include:
- Lack of physical activity
- Salt (sodium) consumption
- Stress management
- Alcohol consumption
Pregnancy. Some women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. If there is a history of high blood pressure in your family (especially pregnancy-induced), notify your obstetrician early in your pregnancy.
Oral contraceptive use. Some women develop high blood pressure while on oral contraceptives. The likelihood of this occurring increases in women who have other risk factors, such as a family history of high blood pressure, being overweight, and kidney disease.
What causes high blood pressure?
Many conditions can cause high blood pressure. High blood pressure may be caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels. Perhaps there is a greater than normal volume of blood. All these conditions can lead to an increased force of blood against the blood vessel walls.
When the exact cause of high blood pressure is unknown, it is called "essential" high blood pressure or hypertension.
There are a few diseases, however, of which high blood pressure is a symptom. Some of these are: kidney disease, tumor of the adrenal gland or congenital defect of the aorta. When high blood pressure is a result of an underlying disease, it is called "secondary hypertension." Usually when the underlying disease is addressed, the blood pressure returns to normal.
Are there medications that raise blood pressure?
In addition to oral contraceptives, there are other medications that can raise blood pressure and or/lower the effectiveness of your anti-hypertension medication. If you have high blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends that you tell your doctor all the prescribed and over-the-counter medicines you are taking. These include nasal decongestants, other cold remedies and diet pills.
What can I do to lower my blood pressure?
There are lifestyle changes that can help lower high blood pressure. They include:
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
- Get regular aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming) and physical activity most days of the week.
- Give up smoking. If you do have high blood pressure, smoking speeds up the development of a dangerous form of high blood pressure (malignant hypertension), and increases your risk of developing heart disease (cardiovascular disease).
- Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grain. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is low in sodium, cholesterol, saturated and total fat, has been shown to lower high blood pressure.
- Consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease; are African American; or are 51 years of age or older.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Learn to manage stress. Stress raises some people's blood pressure. Learn positive, healthful ways to cope with the stress in your life. Some approaches that have proven helpful for some people include: exercise, relaxation techniques, meditation, and psychological counseling.
How is blood pressure measured?
Your doctor can measure your blood pressure by using an instrument called a sphygomomanometer (blood pressure cuff). She or he will wrap the cuff around your upper arm. Then she will squeeze a rubber ball to inflate the cuff. As the cuff inflates, it compresses a large artery in your arm. Then very slowly, your doctor will let out the air until, using her stethoscope, she hears your heart beat. While she is going this, she is looking at the gauge. The gauge measures blood pressure.
Tonia Kim, MD
The Hypertension Program
Division of Nephrology
Faculty Practice Associates
5 East 98th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10029