Hypertension

Hypertension is the medical definition for the increased pressure that can occur inside the walls of arteries. As the heart contracts to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body, it must force blood to move through the arteries of your body. This force applied is what is known as blood pressure. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and consists of two different measurements to make up a single blood pressure reading. The systolic number, or the “top number” as it is commonly known, is the measurement in mm Hg for the pressure applied to the walls of the arteries when the heart contracts. The diastolic reading, or “bottom number”, is the pressure measured in mm Hg after every contraction, or when the heart is relaxed. A blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg has been long considered the ideal for most adults. Any blood pressure reading found to be within a higher range and within 140 and 160 mm Hg systolic or 90 to 100 mm Hg diastolic are considered to be within the 'Stage 1 Hypertension' range. Stage 2 Hypertension is any blood pressure reading found to be higher than 161 mm Hg systolic or higher than 101 mm Hg diastolic.

Since most adults do not share similar medical histories, and some adults are not as healthy as others, this number is often altered by doctors to meet the health goals of individual patients. Despite no prior medical problems, blood pressure readings are extremely important. A variation from normal blood pressure readings can indicate the presence of an underlying health problem and they can also provide clues to patients and doctors of future health issues that may arise if not treated properly.

While some people who are found to be hypertensive for no apparent reason other than aging, known as preliminary hypertension, other individuals find that their hypertension stems from other medical conditions. This kind of hypertension is referred to as secondary hypertension. Higher blood pressure readings than primary hypertension are characteristic of secondary. This increase in severity requires that the individual do as much as they possibly can to keep their blood pressure readings within an acceptable range. Those who are at higher risk of having hypertension are older adults. With age, the arteries in our bodies stiffen and harden. This loss in arterial elasticity results in a higher pressure on the walls of the arteries as blood is being pumped through. Overweight individuals may also find that they have developed hypertension. Due to the addition of fat tissues to the body (which require extra blood in order to sustain them) the heart must contract harder than an individual with a normal body weight. This increased force out of the heart transmits itself on the walls of the arteries supplying blood.

Another very common reason for higher than normal blood pressure readings is a high sodium diet. Most individual's would not willingly adopt such a diet, but sodium is added to many of the foods we eat to make them last longer. We find these foods to have long shelf lives in pantries or freezers and are commonly served in many fast food chains. In the body, sodium prevents us from getting rid of excess fluid during urination. Since this excess fluid is stored within our vascular system, the additional volume increases the pressure within the arteries. The various sources of hypertension are not limited to only these causes. Others causes include kidney disease, tobacco abuse, hormonal imbalances and medications that are over the counter, prescribed, or illegal.

If hypertension goes unnoticed, like it commonly does, it can lead to life threatening conditions. The moving force of blood in the circulatory system starts with the heart. If the arterial conditions become too hard for the heart to pump blood with ease, the heart compensates the situation be growing larger. This enlargement weakens the heart over time and limits the amount of blood that goes out to the body every time the heart beats. This enlargement is known as congestive heart failure and it is not reversible. The elastic property of arteries combined with increased arterial pressures can also provide the ideal situation for the formation of an aneurysm. Aneurysms are bubble like structures that protrude out from the walls of arteries. Their lining is not as thick as the artery from which is stems so they may rupture easily leading to large amounts of blood loss and possibly death. The largest potential threat behind hypertension comes in the form of a stroke or a heart attack. The presence of hypertension and atherosclerosis decreases the amount vasodilators that our bodies can use to not only relieve arterial wall pressure but get more blood moving with less resistance. If blood supply halts to any part of the heart due to interference, we call this a heart attack. Hypertension can also catalyze the thickening of arteries from the accumulation of blood debris like fat. When this material breaks off, which can be facilitated with increased pressures, it can block the blood supply to a cerebral artery as in the case of a stroke.

Despite the grave ramifications of high blood pressure, hypertension can be treated quite easily and effectively. There are several classes of drugs aimed at blocking hypertension precursors within the body while others relieve the internal stress that takes place. Regular exercise, losing weight, smoking cessation, and diet modifications paired with prescribed medications can greatly alter the prognosis for anyone diagnosed with hypertension. 

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