What is hypertension?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs when there is excessive pressure of the blood on the arterial walls as it is transported from the heart to other parts of the body. It is usually a result of the heart pumping more blood than narrowed or blocked arteries can handle. Arteries become narrowed because of a gradual buildup of plaque; hypertension therefore tends to develop over a long period of time.

Hypertension can be present for several years without the appearance of any symptoms. Even in the absence of symptoms, this condition causes gradual damage to the blood vessels and the hears, and if left uncontrolled, it can cause potentially life-threatening complications including cardiac arrest, stroke and aneurisms.



High blood pressure is usually detected during routine visits to the doctor, before the appearance of any symptoms. Some individuals do report severe headaches, shortness of breath or impaired vision, but by the time these symptoms appear, the blood pressure has reached a critical level. Sadly, the first sign of hypertension for some people is a heart attack that may be fatal.

The best way to determine whether you have hypertension is through regular blood pressure checks. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:

  • Most family doctors routinely check blood pressure during each visit. If blood pressure appears to be high, more frequent readings will be recommended.
  • Public blood pressure monitors are available at many locations, such as in pharmacies and fitness clubs. These machines are free and easy to use, and can provide some helpful information. However, they are a guide only, and should not be used as a diagnostic tool.
  • Some people who have been diagnosed with hypertension elect to purchase blood pressure monitors for home use. These machines are generally accurate, and they provide a way for patients to identify when they should see a health care professional.


What are the risk factors?

Most cases of hypertension cannot be linked to a specific cause. It develops over a period of many years, meaning that while everyone should have their blood pressure checked regularly, senior citizens are more vulnerable to the dangers.

Hypertension can occasionally be caused by an underlying condition, such as sleep apnea or kidney disease. Some medications also list high blood pressure as a side effect. These cases of hypertension appear suddenly and can create higher spikes in blood pressure.

Although some of the risk factors for hypertension are beyond our control, such as age and family history, there are several lifestyle factors that can greatly affect our likelihood of developing a problem:

  • Excess weight: the larger the body, the more blood is needed to sustain all of the tissues. The increased volume of blood produced by the body puts a strain on the heart and the arterial walls.
  • Lack of physical activity: active people have lower heart rates: this reduces the amount of work the heart must do with each contraction. Low physical activity results in the heart having to work harder, and it increases the risk of being overweight.
  • Nutritional factors: excess sodium (salt) can lead to fluid retention, which in turn increases blood pressure. This can be countered by reducing salt intake, and by increasing potassium, which helps reduce sodium buildup.
  • Consumption of tobacco and alcohol: smoking causes immediate elevations in blood pressure, and the chemicals present in tobacco contribute to the narrowing of the arteries. At the same time, excessive consumption of alcohol can cause gradual damage to the heart.
  • Stress: when we were stressed, our bodies enter “fight or flight” mode, in which our bodies prepare for physical action by raising the heart rate.

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