High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, refers to a condition when the walls of the arteries (blood vessels) are receiving too much pressure from blood circulating throughout the body. Overtime, this excessive pressure can exacerbate other underlying conditions and has been proven to put unnecessary stress on the heart and other organs.

Currently, 1 in 3 adults experiences high blood pressure (hypertension) in the United States – that’s about 70 million people! Of those individuals, only 52 percent have their hypertension under control, a condition costing the nation over $46 billion each year.

As we age, it becomes much more likely that we will develop high blood pressure. 64 percent of men and 69.3 percent of women between the ages of 65 and 74 are affected by hypertension and elevated blood pressure. Additionally, African Americans and Mexican Americans are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.

There is not a single identifiable cause of this condition. Primary hypertension develops over many years. When there are distinct factors or other underlying health conditions leading to high blood pressure, this is known as secondary hypertension.

Symptoms of Hypertension

It is uncommon for people with hypertension to experience any outward symptoms until blood pressure spikes to a dangerously high level. This is known as a hypertensive crisis. Since high blood pressure regularly goes unchecked, getting a regular hypertension screening is recommended for people 65 and older.

If you experience light-headedness, severe headaches, and/or nosebleeds it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Other symptoms of a hypertensive crisis include severe anxiety, a shortness of breath, and intense disorientation.

Left uncontrolled, hypertension can lead to much more serious conditions such as:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Aneurysm
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Trouble with cognition and memory
  • Damaged blood vessels in kidneys
  • Damaged blood vessels in eyes

If you take your own blood pressure and receive a systolic pressure above 180 or 110 or greater for the diastolic pressure, you may be experiencing a hypertensive crisis. Wait only a few minutes and check again; if the numbers remain or increase, don’t hesitate to call 911.

Sustained hypertensive crises can cause severe complications, such as brain swelling or hemorrhaging, strokes, fluid in the lungs, and tears in the heart’s main artery.

Causes of Hypertension

The factors that often lead to hypertension are numerous and each person is predisposed to many different environmental and genetic conditions. Since the source of high blood pressure isn’t always clear and is commonly a result of compounding risks, a full physical examination can help get to the root of the problem. Causes can include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • A sodium-rich diet
  • Excessive tobacco or alcohol use
  • Stress
  • Family genetics
  • Chronic kidney diseases
  • Adrenal and thyroid diseases
  • Sleep Apnea

Even if these conditions may not apply to you, growing older generally has the potential to cause hypertension as well.

Hypertension Diagnoses

Again, hypertension does not usually produce obvious outward signs of a problem. The best way to know whether you have hypertension is to have your blood pressure measured by a medical professional using a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff).

These readings will let you know both your systolic pressure (the pressure as the heart pumps blood through the body) and also your diastolic pressure (when the heart relaxes and refills with blood). Clinically, hypertension is diagnosed when one’s blood pressure reads higher than 140 over 90 mmHg.

What are the Treatments of Hypertension?

If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, there are immediate lifestyle changes you can make. Eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are always important, but make a huge difference in heart and blood vessel health. Cutting back or completely abstaining from alcohol for people with high blood pressure can also help manage this condition.

In addition to medication and making lifestyle changes, another way to treat hypertension is by finding stress management techniques. Look for healthy alternatives such as meditation, therapeutic exercise like yoga, and by finding an outlet to express any internal frustrations.

However, these lifestyle changes aren’t always enough to treat hypertension, so your doctor may recommend one or several medications to help.

Remember, high blood pressure doesn’t show many symptoms until it is dangerously excessive, so regular check-ups can really help you stay on top of the condition. Finding which of these suggestions work for you can make the difference in managing your hypertension today!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What percent of the population has high blood pressure?

In general, over 50 million people in the United States have high blood pressure. According to Heart.org, the following percentage of adults age 20 and older have high blood pressure in the United States.

  • Non-Hispanic whites: 33.4 percent of men and 30.7 percent of women
  • Non-Hispanic blacks: 42.6 percent of men and 47.0 percent of women
  • Mexican Americans: 30.1 percent of men and 28.8 percent of women  

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What blood pressure reading is considered normal for an elderly adult?

Typically, a blood pressure of 120/80 is considered normal. However, for elderly adults (60 or older) a reading of 140/90 is considered acceptable but could indicate pre-hypertension. Generally speaking, most seniors do have higher blood pressures, even if they don't experience hypertension. If you’re worried that your blood pressure may be too high, consult your doctor and always opt for a professional cardiovascular assessment. 

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