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What is hypertension?

Hypertension is high blood pressure (BP). Your BP is the force of your blood moving against the walls of your arteries. Normal BP is less than 120/80. Prehypertension is between 120/80 and 139/89. Hypertension is 140/90 or higher. Hypertension causes your BP to get so high that your heart has to work much harder than normal. This can cause damage to your heart. Hypertension is a long-term condition that you will need to control with a healthy lifestyle or medicines. A controlled blood pressure helps protect your organs, such as your heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys.

What causes hypertension?

The cause of hypertension may not be known. This type of hypertension is called essential or primary hypertension. Hypertension can sometimes be caused by other medical conditions, such as kidney disease. This type of hypertension is called secondary hypertension.

What increases my risk for hypertension?

  • For men, being older than 55 years, and for women, being older than 65 years

  • Family history of hypertension or heart disease

  • Obesity or lack of exercise

  • Too many high-sodium foods

  • Stress

  • Use of tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs

  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney disease, thyroid disease, or adrenal gland disorder

  • Certain medicines, such as steroids or birth control pills

What are the signs and symptoms of hypertension?

You may have no signs or symptoms, or you may have any of the following:

  • Headache

  • Blurred vision

  • Chest pain

  • Dizziness or weakness

  • Trouble breathing

  • Nosebleeds

How is hypertension diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and the medicines you take. He will also ask if you have a family history of hypertension and about any health conditions you have. He will check your BP and weight and examine your heart, lungs, and eyes. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may help healthcare providers find the cause of your hypertension. Blood tests can also help find other health problems caused by hypertension.

  • Urine tests will be done to check your kidneys.

  • An EKG records the electrical activity of your heart. It is used to check your heart rhythm or other problems caused by hypertension.

How is hypertension treated?

Your healthcare provider will recommend lifestyle changes to lower your BP. You may also need the following medicines:

  • Blood pressure medicine helps lower your blood pressure. You may need more than one type of blood pressure medicine. Take your blood pressure medicine exactly as directed.

  • Diuretics help decrease extra fluid that collects in your body. This will help lower your BP. You may urinate more often while you take this medicine.

How do I check my BP at home?

Sit and rest for 5 minutes before you take your BP. Extend your arm and support it on a flat surface. Your arm should be at the same level as your heart. Follow the directions that came with your BP monitor. If possible, take at least 2 BP readings each time. Take your BP at least twice a day at the same times each day, such as morning and evening. Keep a log of your BP readings and bring it to your follow-up visits. Ask your healthcare provider what your BP should be.

How can I manage my hypertension?

Talk with your healthcare provider about these and other lifestyle changes you can make to manage your hypertension:

  • Eat less sodium (salt). Do not add salt to your food. Limit foods that are high in sodium, such as canned foods, potato chips, and cold cuts. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you follow the DASH Eating Plan. The plan is low in sodium, unhealthy fats, and total fat. It is high in potassium, calcium, and fiber. You get these nutrients by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Ask your healthcare provider or dietitian which meal plan you should follow.

  • Exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, on most days of the week. This will help decrease your BP. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.

  • Limit alcohol. Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoking can increase your BP. Smoking also worsens other health conditions you may have that can increase your risk for hypertension. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting.

  • Manage any other health conditions you have. Health conditions such as diabetes can increase your risk for hypertension. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions and take all your medicines as directed.

  • Decrease stress. This may help lower your BP. Learn ways to relax, such as deep breathing or listening to music.

What are the risks of hypertension?

Without treatment, you may develop other health problems over time. You may lose vision in one or both eyes. You may develop heart and blood vessel disease. This increases your risk of a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or kidney disease and can be life-threatening.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You feel faint, dizzy, confused, or drowsy.

  • You have been taking your BP medicine and your BP is still higher than your healthcare provider says it should be.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have a severe headache or vision loss.

  • You have weakness in an arm or leg.

  • You become confused or have difficulty speaking.

  • You have discomfort in your chest that feels like squeezing, pressure, fullness, or pain.

  • You suddenly feel lightheaded or have trouble breathing.

  • You have pain or discomfort in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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