High blood pressure is sometimes called the “silent killer.” Even when the blood pressure is extremely high, the patient may have no symptoms. High blood pressure (the medical term is hypertension) occurs when the force of the blood pumping against the walls of the blood vessels damages the arteries. Untreated hypertension can cause heart attacks and strokes, damage the heart and cause heart failure.
Some risk factors are genetic. A family may have a history of hypertension through several generations. Certain groups, like African Americans, are more susceptible to hypertension. Hypertension is more likely to appear as people get older because the walls of the blood vessels become less flexible. Being overweight, obese or unfit increases the risk of hypertension. Heavy drinking and smoking (or the use of tobacco in any form) increase the risk of hypertension. Chronic stress is a risk factor, as are too much salt or too little potassium in the diet. Low vitamin D levels may also increase the risk of hypertension.
A number of medications are available to treat hypertension. Beta-blockers make the heart beat more slowly and with less force; they also expand the blood vessels. Medications to relax blood vessels include ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and ARBs. To reduce excess fluid in the body, doctors use diuretics or water pills. Other medications may affect hormones or chemicals in the body that lower the blood pressure or make the heart beat more slowly.
Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and weight loss are usually part of a doctor's recommendations to manage high blood pressure. A healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits is important and helps people lose or control their weight. Regular exercise has multiple benefits: heart fitness, weight loss, stress reduction and the promotion of circulation. People with hypertension should limit alcohol -- two drinks a day for men and one for women. These lifestyle changes may be enough to resolve mild hypertension.
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