There is no complete cure for essential hypertension because unlike secondary hypertension, there is no single cause of the problem; it is a complex disorder only determined, in part, by genes. Environmental (lifestyle) factors interact with genetic factors to produce hypertension.
However, essential hypertension can be treated and managed effectively, even if an individual has a genetic predisposition to the disorder. If essential hypertension is mildly or even moderately high, it may be possible to bring it down to a normal level without medication. Weight loss, changes in diet, and exercise may be the only treatment necessary. General nonpharmacologic recommendations include:
reducing the amount of salt (sodium) and fat in the diet
reducing stress through stress management techniques, relaxation exercises, or counseling
If lifestyle changes are not effective in lowering blood pressure to a normal level, medication may be prescribed. There are many types of drugs available to treat essential hypertension. The main categories of drugs include:
diuretics (help kidneys eliminate excess salt and water from the body's tissues and blood, thereby reducing swelling and lowering blood pressure)
beta-blockers, alpha-blockers, and alpha/beta blockers (act on nervous system to slow heart rate and reduce the force of the heart's contractions
angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (block the production of substances that constrict blood vessels and reduce salt and water build-up in the tissues)
centrally acting agonists (act on nervous system to relax arteries)
When a blood pressure medication is prescribed, it is important to:
take the medication regularly, exactly as prescribed
report any side effects immediately
have regular follow-up visits with a physician
It may take weeks or even months to find the most effective pharmacologic treatment. Once an effective drug or combination of drugs is found, individuals with high blood pressure may require treatment for the rest of their lives.
Genevieve T. Slomski PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,