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Hypertension (HTN or HT), also known as high blood pressure (HBP), is a long-term medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is persistently elevated. High blood pressure usually does not cause symptoms. Long-term high blood pressure, however, is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, peripheral vascular disease, vision loss, chronic kidney disease, and dementia.

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It sneaks up on you when you least expect it, attacking the walls of your arteries with a force great enough to kill. Most people don’t even hear it coming until it’s too late to stop it. It’s silent but deadly. What is this “silent killer”, you ask? It is hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Blood pressure is defined as the measurement of the force against the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps blood through your body. So, what constitutes high blood pressure? Well, one must first understand how blood pressure is measured. It is measured in millimeters of mercury and given as two numbers, one over the other like a fraction. The numerator is called the systolic pressure. This is a measurement of the pressure in one’s arteries when the heart beats. In order for a systolic pressure to be considered normal, it would have to be below 120 most of the time. For it to be considered high, it would have to be over 140 most of the time. The denominator is called the diastolic pressure, a measure of the pressure in one’s arteries between heartbeats. A normal diastolic pressure would be below 80 most of the time, while a high diastolic pressure would be above 90 most of the time. The key four words here are “most of the time”. For instance, if one visits a doctor and has his or her blood pressure measure—with the standard device, the inflatable arm cuff pressure-measuring gauge--and it turns out to be 150/95 mmHg, that does not mean he or she has hypertension. For someone to be diagnosed with hypertension, they would have to have a high blood pressure at two or more readings. Hypertension isn’t known as the “silent killer” for nothing. Most people diagnosed with hypertension exhibit zero signs or symptoms, even when their blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. A few people in the early stages of hypertension might experience dizzy spells, nose bleeds, or dull headaches. However, these symptoms usually do not occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening level. Other symptoms include fatigue, confusion, and irregular heartbeat. These are also symptoms of dangerously high blood pressure. Most of the time, the right medical treatment can prevent blood pressure from reaching such levels. Treatments for hypertension include medications such as thiazide diuretics, beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, calcium channel blockers, renin inhibitors, and Omega-3 fish oil receptors. More often than not, a single drug is not enough to treat one’s hypertension. Doctors will generally prescribe two or more drugs to a hypertension patient. Some natural treatments include regular consumption of garlic, regular exercise, and a healthy diet. But really, whatever treatment works best depends on the type of hypertension. There are two main types of hypertension. The most common type is known as primary or essential hypertension. It is known to develop gradually over years. Experts have yet to fully understand the exact cause of primary hypertension. However, they have been able to identify some contributing factors, such as aging, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive sodium consumption, lack of exercise, lack of proper diet, obesity, and high levels of stress. African Americans are most prone to this type of hypertension. The second type is secondary hypertension. While the least common of the two, secondary hypertension causes the highest pressure. It is caused by an underlying condition. Kidney problems, adrenal gland tumors, birth defects in blood vessels, certain medications--birth controls, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, etc.—and illegal drugs are all causes of secondary hypertension. While both numbers in a blood pressure reading are important, the systolic reading is even more significant for those over the age of 60. When the diastolic pressure is normal but the systolic pressure is high it called isolated systolic pressure. This is the most common type of high blood pressure among adults over 50 years of age. This is, of course, a form of primary hypertension. Another form of hypertension is called white-coat hypertension. This is a condition in which one’s blood pressure rises every time they visit a doctor or hospital. To separate white-coat hypertension patients from actual hypertension patients, if the doctor suspects a patient to have white-coat hypertension, he will have the patient measure their own blood pressure in a place outside of a medical setting, such as their home or job. Approximately 1 in 3 adults are diagnosed with hypertension. In 1999 alone, 16,968 U.S. deaths were due to hypertension. High blood pressure is a common and deadly disease. It’s nothing to be played with. Anyone who suspects that they have hypertension should seek medical attention immediately. However, if one is unable to go to go see a medical professional, do no fret. Thanks to advances in technology and the generosity of CVS, nearly every American has the opportunity walk into their local CVS and have their blood pressure taken for free by a machine. Oh, the beauty of science!

Contributed by Vontavia Heard

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