Known as the "silent killer," hypertension often produces few overt symptoms; it may, however, result in damage to the heart, eyes, kidneys, or brain and ultimately lead to congestive heart failure, heart attack (see infarction), kidney failure, or stroke. African Americans and women are the most affected. Treatment of hypertension includes diets to reduce weight and salt and alcohol intake, increased exercise, quitting smoking, and various drugs, such as diuretics, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium-channel blockers or angiotensin-receptor blockers, as well as biofeedback. Many patients require a combination of drugs to control their blood pressure. Treatment for persons with prehypertension includes dietary and other lifestyle changes. Recent research has questioned the importance of dietary salt as a major contributor to hypertension; some studies point to low calcium intake as a cause.
See also eclampsia.
Condition in which blood pressure is abnormally high. Over time, it damages the kidneys, brain, eyes, and heart. Hypertension accelerates atherosclerosis, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. More common in the elderly and blacks, it usually has no symptoms but can be detected by a routine blood-pressure test. Secondary hypertension, caused by another disorder (most often kidney disease or hormone imbalance), accounts for 10percnt of cases. The other 90percnt have no specific cause (essential hypertension). A low-salt diet, weight loss, smoking cessation, limited alcohol intake, and exercise can prevent or treat hypertension or reduce medication if drug therapy proves necessary. Malignant hypertension, a severe, rapidly progressing form, requires emergency treatment with drugs to dilate the blood vessels.
Learn more about hypertension with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Hypertension, also referred to as high blood pressure, HTN or HPN, is a medical condition in which the blood pressure is chronically elevated. In current usage, the word "hypertension without a qualifier normally refers to arterial hypertension.
Hypertension can be classified either essential (primary) or secondary. Essential hypertension indicates that no specific medical cause can be found to explain a patient's condition. Secondary hypertension indicates that the high blood pressure is a result of (i.e., secondary to) another condition, such as kidney disease or tumours (pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma). Persistent hypertension is one of the risk factors for strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and arterial aneurysm, and is a leading cause of chronic renal failure. Even moderate elevation of arterial blood pressure leads to shortened life expectancy. At severely high pressures, defined as mean arterial pressures 50% or more above average, a person can expect to live no more than a few years unless appropriately treated.
In individuals older than 50 years, hypertension is considered to be present when a person's systolic blood pressure is consistently 140 mm Hg or greater. Beginning at a systolic pressure of 115 and diastolic pressure of 75 (commonly written as 115/75 mm Hg), cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk doubles for each increment of 20/10 mmHg. Prehypertension is defined as blood pressure from 120/80 mm Hg to 139/89 mm Hg. Prehypertension is not a disease category; rather, it is a designation chosen to identify individuals at high risk of developing hypertension. The Mayo Clinic specifies blood pressure is "normal if it's below 120/80". Patients with blood pressures over 130/80 mm Hg along with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, or kidney disease require further treatment.
Resistant hypertension is defined as the failure to reduce BP to the appropriate level after taking a three-drug regimen. The American Heart Association released guidelines for treating resistant hypertension.
Hypertension is often confused with mental tension, stress and anxiety. While chronic anxiety and/or irritability is associated with poor outcomes in people with hypertension, it alone does not cause it. Accelerated hypertension is associated with somnolence, confusion, visual disturbances, and nausea and vomiting (hypertensive encephalopathy).
Hypertension is rarely severe enough to cause symptoms. These typically only surface with a systolic blood pressure over 240 mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure over 120 mmHg. These pressures without signs of end-organ damage (such as renal failure) are termed "accelerated" hypertension. When end-organ damage is possible or already ongoing, but in absence of raised intracranial pressure, it is called hypertensive emergency. Hypertension under this circumstance needs to be controlled, but prolonged hospitalization is not necessarily required. When hypertension causes increased intracranial pressure, it is called malignant hypertension. Increased intracranial pressure causes papilledema, which is visible on ophthalmoscopic examination of the retina.
High Renin levels predispose to Hypertension: Increased Renin → Increased Angiotensin II → Increased Vasoconstriction, Thirst/ADH and Aldosterone → Increased Sodium Resorption in the Kidneys (DCT and CD) → Increased Blood Pressure. Some authorities claim that potassium might both prevent and treat hypertension.
More than 50 genes have been examined in association studies with hypertension, and the number is constantly growing.
Liquorice extracts are present in many medicines (for example cough syrups, throat lozenges and peptic ulcer treatments).
In patients with pheochromocytoma increased secretion of catecholamines such as epinephrine and norepinephrine by a tumor (most often located in the adrenal medulla) causes excessive stimulation of adrenergic receptors, which results in peripheral vasoconstriction and cardiac stimulation. This diagnosis is confirmed by demonstrating increased urinary excretion of epinephrine and norepinephrine and/or their metabolites (vanillylmandelic acid).
Medications commonly associated with rebound hypertension include centrally-acting antihypertensive agents, such as clonidine and beta-blockers.
Diagnosis of hypertension is generally on the basis of a persistently high blood pressure. Usually this requires three separate measurements at least one week apart. Exceptionally, if the elevation is extreme, or end-organ damage is present then the diagnosis may be applied and treatment commenced immediately.
Obtaining reliable blood pressure measurements relies on following several rules and understanding the many factors that influence blood pressure reading.
For instance, measurements in control of hypertension should be at least 1 hour after caffeine, 30 minutes after smoking or strenuous exercise and without any stress. Cuff size is also important. The bladder should encircle and cover two-thirds of the length of the (upper) arm. The patient should be sitting upright in a chair with both feet flat on the floor for a minimum of five minutes prior to taking a reading. The patient should not be on any adrenergic stimulants, such as those found in many cold medications.
When taking manual measurements, the person taking the measurement should be careful to inflate the cuff suitably above anticipated systolic pressure. The person should inflate the cuff to 200 mmHg and then slowly release the air while palpating the radial pulse. After one minute, the cuff should be reinflated to 30 mmHg higher than the pressure at which the radial pulse was no longer palpable. A stethoscope should be placed lightly over the brachial artery. The cuff should be at the level of the heart and the cuff should be deflated at a rate of 2 to 3 mmHg/s. Systolic pressure is the pressure reading at the onset of the sounds described by Korotkoff (Phase one). Diastolic pressure is then recorded as the pressure at which the sounds disappear (K5) or sometimes the K4 point, where the sound is abruptly muffled. Two measurements should be made at least 5 minutes apart, and, if there is a discrepancy of more than 5 mmHg, a third reading should be done. The readings should then be averaged. An initial measurement should include both arms. In elderly patients who particularly when treated may show orthostatic hypotension, measuring lying sitting and standing BP may be useful. The BP should at some time have been measured in each arm, and the higher pressure arm preferred for subsequent measurements.
BP varies with time of day, as may the effectiveness of treatment, and archetypes used to record the data should include the time taken. Analysis of this is rare at present.
Automated machines are commonly used and reduce the variability in manually collected readings . Routine measurements done in medical offices of patients with known hypertension may incorrectly diagnose 20% of patients with uncontrolled hypertension
Home blood pressure monitoring can provide a measurement of a person's blood pressure at different times throughout the day and in different environments, such as at home and at work. Home monitoring may assist in the diagnosis of high or low blood pressure. It may also be used to monitor the effects of medication or lifestyle changes taken to lower or regulate blood pressure levels.
Home monitoring of blood pressure can also assist in the diagnosis of white coat hypertension. The American Heart Association states, "You may have what's called 'white coat hypertension'; that means your blood pressure goes up when you're at the doctor's office. Monitoring at home will help you measure your true blood pressure and can provide your doctor with a log of blood pressure measurements over time. This is helpful in diagnosing and preventing potential health problems."
Some home blood pressure monitoring devices also make use of blood pressure charting software. These charting methods provide printouts for the patient's physician and reminders to take a blood pressure reading. However, a simple and cheap way is simply to manually record values with pen and paper, which can then be inspected by a doctor.
Systolic hypertension is defined as an elevated systolic blood pressure. If systolic blood pressure is elevated with a normal diastolic blood pressure, it is called isolated systolic hypertension. Systolic hypertension may be due to reduced compliance of the aorta with increasing age.
Blood tests commonly performed include:
Additional tests often include:
Unless hypertension is severe, lifestyle changes such as those discussed in the preceding section are strongly recommended before initiation of drug therapy. Adoption of the DASH diet is one example of lifestyle change repeatedly shown to effectively lower mildly-elevated blood pressure. If hypertension is high enough to justify immediate use of medications, lifestyle changes are initiated concomitantly.
There are many classes of medications for treating hypertension, together called antihypertensives, which — by varying means — act by lowering blood pressure. Evidence suggests that reduction of the blood pressure by 5-6 mmHg can decrease the risk of stroke by 40%, of coronary heart disease by 15-20%, and reduces the likelihood of dementia, heart failure, and mortality from vascular disease.
The aim of treatment should be blood pressure control to <140/90 mmHg for most patients, and lower in certain contexts such as diabetes or kidney disease (some medical professionals recommend keeping levels below 120/80 mmHg). Each added drug may reduce the systolic blood pressure by 5-10 mmHg, so often multiple drugs are necessary to achieve blood pressure control.
Commonly used drugs include:
If lifestyle changes are ineffective or the presenting blood pressure is critical, then drug therapy is initiated, often requiring more than one agent to effective lower hypertension. Which type of many medications should be used initially for hypertension has been the subject of several large studies and various national guidelines.
The ALLHAT study showed better cost-effectiveness and slightly better outcomes for the thiazide diuretic chlortalidone compared with a calcium channel blocker and an ACE inhibitor in a 33,357-member ethnically mixed study group. The 1993 consensus recommendation for use of thiazide diuretics as initial treatment stems in part from the ALLHAT study results, which concluded in 2002 that "Thiazide-type diuretics are superior in preventing 1 or more major forms of CVD and are less expensive. They should be preferred for first-step antihypertensive therapy."
A subsequent smaller study (ANBP2) did not show the slight advantages in thiazide diuretic outcomes observed in the ALLHAT study, and actually showed slightly better outcomes for ACE-inhibitors in older white male patients.
Thiazide diuretics are effective, recommended as the best first-line drug for hypertension by many experts, and much more affordable than other therapies, yet they are not prescribed as often as some newer drugs. Arguably, this is partly because they are off-patent, less profitable, and thus rarely promoted by the drug industry.
The consensus recommendations of thiazide diuretics as first-line therapy for hypertension stand against a the backdrop that all blood pressure treatments have side-effects. Potentially serious side effects of the thiazide diuretics include hypercholesterinemia, and impaired glucose tolerance with consequent increased risk of developing Diabetes mellitus type 2. The thiazide diuretics also deplete circulating potassium unless combined with a potassium-sparing diuretic or supplemental potassium. On this basis, the consensus recommendations to prefer use of thiazides as first line treatment for essential hypertension have been repeatedly and strongly questioned. However as the Merck Manual of Geriatrics notes, "thiazide-type diuretics are especially safe and effective in the elderly.