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Hypertension Symptoms

Identifying hypertension symptoms can be a difficult task because, in its early stages, this disease is often asymptomatic. Unless a blood pressure check reveals continuously elevated levels, there are usually no other outward signs. It's for this reason hypertension is referred to as the 'silent killer'.

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is high blood pressure. Blood travels through your arteries to deliver oxygen rich blood to your organs and tissues. If this blood flow meets resistance, it elevates the pressure in your arteries, leading to hypertension. Normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure (the top number) under 120mmHg and a diastolic pressure (the bottom number) under 80mmHg. Pre-hypertension readings are between 121-139mmHg for systolic pressure and 81-90mmHg for diastolic pressure. Hypertension is classified as a systolic pressure of 140-159mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90-99mmHg.

Normal Blood Pressure for Women

When do hypertension symptoms begin?

For a person to be officially diagnosed with hypertension, he must have three or more consecutive blood pressure readings over 140mmHg systolic and over 90mmHg diastolic taken on separate days. Even with this diagnosis, outward hypertension symptoms are not always evident. A person may have hypertension for years before showing any physical signs other than high blood pressure readings.

Normal Blood Pressure for Men

What are some hypertension symptoms?

One of the earliest manifestations of hypertension is a headache in the morning that tends to subside as the day goes on. The pain is usually felt in the back of the head and the neck. If hypertension continues without treatment, it may progress to confusion, dizziness, vision disturbances, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and nausea and vomiting. Signs that untreated hypertension has led to organ damage include kidney failure, stroke, heart failure, progressive vision loss, and aortic aneurysms.

Treatment and control of hypertension symptoms

Hypertension symptoms can be treated with drug therapy and lifestyle changes. Medications commonly used to treat hypertension include diuretics, ACE inhibitors, beta-adrenergic blockers, and calcium channel blockers. Each of these drug types has different sites of action in the body so it's not uncommon to be prescribed two or more medications to control high blood pressure.

Lifestyle modifications include dietary changes that reduce the amount of salt and saturated fat intake and increase the intake of fruits and vegetables. Regular physical activity can reduce stress and prevent excessive weight gain, both of which have been shown to raise blood pressure. Cessation of smoking is highly encouraged since nicotine may interfere with the effectiveness of hypertension medications.

Jennifer Budd is a graduate nurse and certified nursing assistant.

Reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH

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