Hypertension - Causes
Causes of Hypertension
High blood pressure, or hypertension, has become a disease of civilization. Up to 20% of the world's population suffers from hypertension, which includes about 32% of all Americans, 18% of all Canadians and 30% of the UK population, among others. Blood pressure is pressure that flowing blood exerts on arterial walls. This pressure is measured with the help of a sphygmomanometer. Normal blood pressure is considered to be between 110/65 mmHg and 140/90 mmHg. If blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mmHg, it is a sign of high blood pressure, or hypertension. Hypertension can be divided into two basic categories, primary and secondary hypertension, which differ mainly in their cause.
Primary hypertension affects about 90-95% of all hypertension sufferers. Its cause is not known, though it is thought that primary hypertension is a result of a combination of factors (multifactorial causes). This type of hypertension mostly affects middle aged or older individuals, but its age of onset is rapidly decreasing, meaning younger and younger individuals are being affected.
Risk Factors of Primary Hypertension
There are risk factors directly affecting the emergence of hypertension. One of these is genetic predisposition, which in up to 70% of patients is for primary hypertension. Genetic predisposition is the increased likelihood of developing high blood pressure due to genetics. Another risk factor includes gender, as women tend to be affected more often than men. Other risk factors that can lead to the development of hypertension are excess salt intake, fatty and unhealthy foods, smoking, insufficient amounts of exercise, obesity and stress.
Secondary hypertension usually affects younger individuals. It includes about 5-10% of all hypertension sufferers. The causes of secondary hypertension are known, as it is underlying illnesses that cause this condition. These illnesses typically include disease of the kidneys and its vessels, adrenal disorders, hormonal disorders, pregnancy, and in the case of hypertension in the upper body only, coarctation of the aorta or congenital narrowing of the aorta. Rarely is pheochromocytoma the cause; a tumor from the adrenal cells causing the production of large amounts of hormones influencing blood pressure, thus increasing it significantly.
Symptoms of Hypertension
Symptoms of primary and secondary hypertension can include severe clinical manifestations. In the majority of cases, hypertension develops gradually. Patients often complain of headaches, vomiting, nausea, pressure in the temples and frequent nose bleeds. Sometimes patients do not notice any symptoms and hypertension is detected accidently during an unrelated physical examination.
Complications of Hypertension
Hypertension is a disease that must be treated, as long-term elevated blood pressure has detrimental effects on both blood vessels and organs. Hypertension leads to the more rapid development of atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries due to fat deposits on arterial walls. These arteries are narrowed and therefore do not allow sufficient amounts of blood to pass into organs. Hypertension can thus result in myocardial infarction, stroke, heart failure and kidney damage, with their gradual failure.
Hypertension is not difficult to diagnose as it relies on the patient's blood pressure being measured. Blood pressure is typically taken at every doctor's visit. It is measured with a sphygmomanometer, whose cuff is wrapped around the patient's relaxed upper arm. The patient should be calm. In the event of a higher blood pressure value, possibly indicating hypertension, blood pressure should be measured again in order to eliminate so-called white coat syndrome. This is where a patient's blood pressure is increased due to stress or fear of visiting the doctor, possibly leading to a false diagnosis of hypertension.
Treatment for hypertension depends on its type. Treatment for hypertension can be conservative or pharmacological. The basic treatment for primary hypertension is lifestyle modifications. This means improving eating habits and limiting fats and salt. It is best to abstain from alcohol and smoking, get enough physical activity, and maintain a healthy weight. If these measures are not enough, pharmacological treatment is necessary with the help of hypertensives. Secondary hypertension requires the treatment of the primary underlying illness first, as it is what is causing the hypertension. This type also requires medications with the help of hypertensives, a large group of medications that lower blood pressure by a variety of mechanisms.
Prevention is a set of measures leading the reduced risk of the development of an illness. With hypertension, it is lifestyle, i.e. leading a balance healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, limiting fatty and fried foods, and not adding salt to food. Regular physical activity is very important in order to prevent hypertension. Aerobic exercises are the most appropriate, which include swimming, cycling, running or aerobics. However, walking regularly is sufficient. It is further recommended to abstain from alcohol and smoking and avoid stressful situations.