Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a condition that can eventually lead to heart disease and stroke. Blood pressure measures the amount of blood the heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in the arteries. High blood pressure occurs when arteries narrow. The condition develops gradually, and it may go undiagnosed for many years.
High blood pressure rarely yields detectable symptoms, so testing blood pressure routinely is crucial. Adults should be checked every two years, according to the Mayo Clinic, and when high blood pressure is determined it should be monitored more frequently.
In mild cases of hypertension, lifestyle changes can be quite successful. Diet and exercise play a major role in blood pressure management, and simple changes can often lower blood pressure to acceptable levels.
When diet and exercise are not enough, doctors may prescribe medication. Several categories of drugs may be used to treat hypertension. Thiazide diuretics, or water pills, work on your kidneys to eliminate sodium and water, reducing blood volume.
Beta blockers open blood vessels, allowing the heart to beat slower and lower blood pressure. Beta blockers are often used in combination with diuretics.
Other types of medication, known as ACE inhibitors, ARBs and calcium channel blockers, relax the blood vessels, allowing the blood volume to flow more freely.
Hypertension carries a hereditary factor, and risk increases with age. Most risk factors, however, can be managed by lifestyle changes. Those risks include obesity, inactivity, tobacco use, a high-sodium diet and drinking too much alcohol. Chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea and also increase risk of hypertension.
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