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Hypertension

Symptoms and treatment

Hypertension is a medical condition in which blood pressure is consistently above normal. There are two types of hypertension. Arterial hypertension is what we normally think of as high blood pressure, and is often just called "hypertension." Pulmonary hypertension is elevated blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs (especially the pulmonary artery).

Arterial Hypertension

Arterial hypertension is generally defined as blood pressure of 140 / 90 or higher. Untreated, it can lead to heart disease (especially congestive heart failure), kidney disease, stroke and even blindness. Arterial hypertension usually has no symptoms (hence its name, "the silent killer"). People with extreme hypertension may experience severe headaches, fatigue, chest pain or irregular heartbeat. It is caused by either too much fluid in the blood vessels or by the narrowing of these vessels. Narrowing is caused by either physical constriction of the vessels or plaque buildup on the inside walls.

Arterial Hypertension Treatment

Treatment includes lifestyle changes such as:

For mild hypertension, lifestyle changes may be sufficient to bring blood pressure into the normal range. For more severe cases, medication is needed. Your doctor may try different drugs or combinations of drugs before finding the best one for you. Some medications your doctor may prescribe include:

  • Diuretics (water pills). These help the body get rid of extra water. Less fluid in the blood vessels decreases pressure.
  • Beta-blockers. These will block the effect of adrenaline so the heart then slows down, resulting in lower blood pressure.
  • Calcium channel blockers. These widen blood vessels by slowing down the movement of calcium ions into cells. This relaxes the blood vessels and the heart muscle.
  • ACE inhibitors. ACE inhibitors also widen blood vessels. They do this by blocking the chemicals that cause blood vessel constriction.

Pulmonary Hypertension

There are two types of pulmonary hypertension. Primary pulmonary hypertension is rare, and there is no known cause or cure. The same drugs used for arterial hypertension may sometimes help alleviate symptoms. Also, there are intravenous drugs that can keep the pulmonary vessels open, reducing pressure. Secondary hypertension is caused by another lung disease such as bronchitis, emphysema or congenital heart disease. Often, successful treatment of the underlying disease will also lower the pressure.

Both types create stress on the heart as it tries harder to get blood (and thereby oxygen) to the lungs. Over time this leads to heart failure and death. Symptoms usually include shortness of breath and chest pain during exercise. Other symptoms may be dizziness and fainting that get worse during exercise.

Regardless of the type of hypertension or its cause, it is a serious condition that can lead to death. It is important to have regular medical checkups to monitor your blood pressure and overall health.

By Melissa J. Luther

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