LittlePeopleLogo     High Blood Pressure

Hypertension is the term for blood pressure that is higher than normal. High blood pressure causes the heart and blood vessels to work harder to pump the blood throughout the body. Over time this can cause major complications such as heart attack, hardening of the arteries, stroke, and heart failure. How much time is required for damage to occur depends largely on how high the blood pressure is.

How does it occur?

There are no clear causes of hypertension. However, many different factors can increase blood pressure: for example, stress, overweight, smoking, a diet high in salt, heavy use of alcohol, and in some women, the use of birth control pills. Heredity, sex, age, and race are also important factors.

What are the symptoms?

Hypertension usually causes no symptoms. This is why it is important to have your blood pressure checked by a health care professional at least once every year.

Symptoms of severe hypertension or its complications may include headache, dizziness, racing or irregular heartbeat, easy tiring, impotence, nosebleeds, chest pain or shortness of breath.

How is it diagnosed?

Because hypertension causes no symptoms at first, it is often discovered when you are seeing your doctor for a different reason. Blood pressure is always checked at doctor visits because it is such a common problem.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on how high your blood pressure is. The goals of treatment are to lower your blood pressure to a level as near normal as possible and to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

If your blood pressure is mildly or even moderately high, it may be possible to bring it down to a normal level without medication. Changes in your diet, weight loss, and exercise may be the only treatment you need. Your doctor may recommend the following first steps to treat your high blood pressure:

• Reduce the amount of salt or in your diet

• Exercise regularly. For example, walk or swim at least three times a week

• Lose weight if you are overweight

• Limit the amount of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages that you drink

• If you smoke, quit

• Reduce stress

If these lifestyle changes do not lower your blood pressure enough, your doctor may prescribe a drug that will reduce your blood pressure.

When you start taking medication, it is important to:

• Take the medication regularly, exactly as prescribed

• Tell you doctor about any side effects right away

• Keep your follow-up visits with your doctor

It may not be possible to know at first which drug or combination of drugs will work best for you. You and your doctor may need to work together for several weeks to find the best treatment for you.

How long will the effects last?

You may need treatment for high blood pressure the rest of your life. However, proper treatment can control your blood pressure and prevent or delay complications, such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

How can I take care of myself?

Your treatment will be much more effective if you follow these guidelines for taking good care of yourself:

• Always follow your doctor's instructions for taking medications. Don't take less medication or stop taking medication without talking to your doctor about it first. Abruptly stopping blood pressure medication can be dangerous. Also, do not increase your dose of medicine without seeing your doctor first.

• Check your blood pressure (or have it checked) as often as your doctor advises.

• Use less salt.

• Develop and maintain an exercise program that includes at least 30 minutes of walking, bicycling, or swimming three to five times a week, according to your doctor's recommendation.

• Decrease your intake of alcohol

• Don't smoke.

• Limit the amount of caffeine you drink.

• Try to reduce the stress in your life or learn how to deal better with situations that make you feel anxious.

• Ask your doctor and pharmacist for information about the drugs you are taking.

• Tell your doctor about any side effects you have from your medicines.