Hypertension; The Silent Killer

The increasing prevalence of this condition is blamed on lifestyle and dietary factors, such as physical inactivity, alcohol and tobacco use, and a diet high in sodium (usually from processed
and fatty foods).

This page offers detailed but easy-to-follow information about hypertension.

Contents of this article

 1.   What is hypertension (high blood
2.  Causes
3.  Diagnosis
4.  Treatment
5.  Prevention

What is hypertension?

Hypertension also known as high blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the
walls of arteries as it flows through them.
Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the body’s tissues .


As blood flows through arteries it pushes against the inside of the artery walls. The more pressure the blood exerts on the artery walls, the higher the blood pressure will be. The size of small arteries also affects the blood pressure. When the
muscular walls of arteries are relaxed or dilated,the pressure of the blood flowing through them is lower than when the artery walls are narrow, or constrict.

If left untreated, hypertension can lead to the following medical conditions:

1)  arteriosclerosis, also called atherosclerosis

2) heart attack

3) stroke

4) enlarged heart

5) kidney damage.

Arteriosclerosis is hardening of the arteries. The walls of arteries have a layer of muscle and elastic tissue that makes them flexible and able
to dilate and constrict as blood flows through them. High blood pressure can make the artery walls thicken and harden. When artery walls
thicken, the inside of the blood vessel narrows.
Cholesterol and fats are more likely to build up on the walls of damaged arteries, making them even
narrower. Blood clots also can get trapped in narrowed arteries, blocking the flow of blood.

The kidneys remove the body’s wastes from the blood. If hypertension thickens the arteries to the kidneys, less waste can be filtered from the blood. As the condition worsens, kidney failure occurs and wastes build up in the blood. Dialysis or a kidney transplant are needed when the kidneys
fail. About 25% of people who receive kidney dialysis have kidney failure caused by hypertension.

Causes of hypertension

Many different actions or situations can normally raise blood pressure. Physical activity can temporarily raise blood pressure. Stressful
situations can make blood pressure go up. When the stress goes away, blood pressure usually returns to normal. These temporary increases in blood pressure are not considered hypertension. A diagnosis of hypertension is made only when a

Risk factors for hypertension include:

1. age over 60
2. male sex
3. race
4. heredity
5. salt sensitivity
6. obesity
7. inactive lifestyle
8. heavy alcohol consumption
9. use of oral contraceptives
Some risk factors for getting hypertension can be changed, while others cannot. Age, male sex, and
race are risk factors that a person can’t do anything about. Some people inherit a tendency


Because hypertension doesn’t cause symptoms, it is important to have blood pressure checked regularly. Blood pressure is measured with an
instrument called a sphygmomanometer. A cloth-
covered rubber cuff is wrapped around the upper arm and inflated. When the cuff is inflated, an
artery in the arm is squeezed to momentarily stop
the flow of blood. Then, the air is let out of the cuff while a stethoscope placed over the artery is used to detect the sound of the blood spurting back through the artery. This first sound is the systolic pressure, the pressure when the heart beats. The last sound heard as the rest of the air is released is the diastolic pressure, the pressure
between heart beats. Both sounds are recorded on the mercury gauge on the sphygmomanometer.
Normal blood pressure is defined by a range of values. Blood pressure lower than 120/80 mm Hg
is considered normal.
A number of factors such as pain, stress or anxiety can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. For this reason, hypertension is not diagnosed on one high blood pressure reading. If a blood pressure reading is
120/80 or higher for the first time, the physician will have the person return for another blood pressure check. Diagnosis of hypertension usually is made based on two or more readings after the
first visit.
Systolic hypertension of the elderly is common
and is diagnosed when the diastolic pressure is normal or low, but the systolic is elevated,e.g.170/70 mm Hg. This condition usually co-
exists with hardening of the arteries
Blood pressure measurements are classified in stages, according to severity:
normal blood pressure: less than less than
120/80 mm Hg
pre-hypertension: 120-129/80-89 mm Hg
Stage 1 hypertension: 140-159/90-99 mm Hg
Stage 2 hypertension: at or greater than
160-179/100-109 mm Hg
A typical physical examination to evaluate
hypertension includes:
medical and family history
physical examination


There is no cure for primary hypertension, but blood pressure can almost always be lower with the correct treatment. The goal of treatment is to lower blood pressure to levels that will prevent heart disease and other complications of hypertension. In secondary hypertension, the disease that is responsible for the hypertension is treated in addition to  the hypertension itself.Successful treatment of the underlying disorders may cure the secondary hypertension. Treatment to lower blood pressure may include changes in diet, getting regular exercise,and taking antihypertensive medications. Patients falling into the pre-hypertension range who don’t have damage to the heart or kidneys often are advised to make needed lifestyle changes only.Eat more fruit and vegetables.
Lifestyle changes that may reduce blood pressure by about 5 to 10 mm Hg include:
reducing salt intake
reducing fat intake
losing weight
getting regular exercise
quitting smoking
reducing alcohol consumption
managing stress


Prevention of hypertension centers on avoiding or eliminating known risk factors. Even persons at risk because of age, race, or sex or those who have an inherited risk can lower their chance of developing hypertension.

The risk of developing hypertension can be reduced by making the same changes recommended for treating hypertension:

  • reducing salt intake
  • reducing fat intake
  • losing weight
  • getting regular exercise
  • quitting smoking
  • reducing alcohol consumption
  • managing stress

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