High blood pressure (hypertension) is a condition in which your heart is meeting too much resistance from blocked or narrowed arteries as it tries to pump blood and oxygen around your body.
Stage 1 hypertension is generally considered to be a consistent systolic reading of 130-139 mm Hg and/or a diastolic reading of 80-89 mm Hg.
Stage 2 hypertension is classified as a consistent systolic reading of 140 mm Hg or higher and/or a diastolic reading of 90 mm Hg or higher.
High blood pressure is a common but serious condition. Almost half of all Americans have high blood pressure. When not treated, high blood pressure can lead to an array of serious health issues including heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and much more. It’s made even more dangerous by the fact that, in some cases, symptoms may be invisible or hard to detect.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms
Blood pressure is called the “Silent Killer”, as it may not produce any noticeable symptoms or signs that anything is wrong. In fact, the vast majority of hypertension patients experience no signs or symptoms of high blood pressure. The symptoms listed below are signs of a medical emergency that warrants a visit to the emergency room.
Signs of emergency-level high blood pressure are:
- Changes in heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Again, the majority of patients with high blood pressure will not experience these adverse effects. High blood pressure rarely causes noticeable symptoms. Because of this, it is important to undergo regular check-ups with your primary care provider to test your blood pressure levels. Early detection of high blood pressure can make the condition easier to treat while preventing complications like those listed above.
High Blood Pressure Causes
Primary hypertension, or high blood pressure that's not caused by an underlying health condition, is generally caused by the narrowing of blood vessels. There are any number of reasons that blood vessels might constrict. This narrowing means that the heart has to work harder to move blood throughout the body. This puts strain on the organ, which can lead to heart disease and heart failure.
High Blood Pressure Risk Factors
High blood pressure has many risk factors. Conditions/ factors that may put you at greater risk of developing high blood pressure include:
Age: The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Hypertension is more common in older adults than younger adults.
Family history: A family history of high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol can put you at increased risk for developing high blood pressure yourself.
Race: Black people are at greater risk for developing high blood pressure than individuals from other racial identities.
Overweight/ obesity: Being overweight or having obesity is one of the most common factors that leads to high blood pressure.
Lack of physical activity: A lack of exercise can cause you to become overweight. Being overweight changes blood vessels in the body, leading to increased pressure on the heart.
Tobacco use: Tobacco use has been shown to narrow blood vessels and causes the arteries to harden, increasing the risk of high blood pressure.
Alcohol/ substance abuse: Similarly, recreation drug use and the abuse of alcohol has been linked to increased blood pressure.
Stress: Excessive levels of prolonged stress has been shown to cause an increase in blood pressure. In addition, individuals dealing with stress are more likely to forego a healthy diet, cardiovascular exercise, and abuse tobacco/ alcohol.
This is not a complete list of risk factors, although these are the most common. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, or identify with any of the conditions listed above, speak to a health care provider to schedule a blood pressure test. Because high blood pressure rarely causes symptoms, it can be hard to detect until it's too late. Talk to your provider about how often you should undergo blood pressure screening.