Essential hypertension is high blood pressure that doesn’t have a known secondary cause. It is also referred to as primary hypertension.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against your artery walls as your heart pumps blood through your body. Hypertension occurs when the force of blood is stronger than it normally should be.
Most cases of high blood pressure are classified as essential hypertension. The other kind of hypertension is secondary hypertension. Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure that has an identifiable cause, such as kidney disease.
There’s no cure for essential hypertension, but there are treatments.
Genetic factors are thought to play a role in essential hypertension. Diet, stress, and being overweight may increase your risks of developing essential hypertension.
Blood pressure is the major indicator of essential hypertension. It’s important to understand how to take your blood pressure and read the results.
Blood pressure readings have two numbers, usually written this way: 120/80. The first number is your systolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures the force of blood against your artery walls as your heart pumps blood to the rest of your body. The second number measures your diastolic pressure. Diastolic pressure measures the force of your blood against your artery walls between heartbeats, as the heart muscle relaxes.
Your blood pressure readings can fluctuate higher or lower throughout the day. They change after exercise, after rest, when you’re in pain, and even when you’re stressed out or angry. Occasional high blood pressure readings don’t necessarily mean you have hypertension. You won’t receive a diagnosis of hypertension unless your blood pressure readings are consistently high.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg.
Prehypertension is higher than normal blood pressure, but not quite high enough to be hypertension. Prehypertension is a systolic pressure of 120 to 139 mmHG or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 mmHG.
Stage-1 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 140 to 159 mmHG or a diastolic pressure of 90 to 99 mmHG.
Stage-2 hypertension is higher than 160/90 mmHG.
Most people won’t notice any symptoms of essential hypertension. They usually discover that their blood pressure is high during a regular medical checkup. Essential hypertension can begin at any age. It most often occurs first during the middle-aged years.
Your doctor will test your blood pressure using a blood pressure monitor. If your blood pressure is high, your doctor may want you to check your blood pressure at home during regular intervals. Doing so will help determine if the high blood pressure reading is a common occurrence. Your doctor will teach you how to use a blood pressure monitor if they ask you to measure your blood pressure at home. You will record these readings and discuss them with your doctor at a later date.
Your doctor may perform a physical exam to check for signs of heart disease. This exam may include looking at your eyes and listening to your heart. Small blood vessels in the back of your eye can indicate damage from high blood pressure. Damage here indicates similar damage elsewhere.
Your doctor may also order the following tests to detect heart and kidney problems:
- a blood test to check your cholesterol levels
- an echocardiogram test that uses sound waves to make a picture of your heart
- an electrocardiogram test that records the electrical activity of your heart
- blood test, urine test, or ultrasound to check your kidney function
If you have prehypertension or hypertension, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure. Lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend include:
- exercising at least 30 minutes a day
- eating a low-sodium, low-fat diet that’s rich in potassium and fiber (don’t increase your potassium intake without your doctor’s permission if you have kidney problems)
- losing weight if you are overweight
- quitting smoking
- limiting your alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and two drinks a day if you’re a man
- reducing your stress levels
If lifestyle changes don’t lower your blood pressure levels enough, your doctor may prescribe you one or more antihypertensive medications. The most common blood pressure medications include:
- beta blockers, such as Lopressor
- calcium channel blockers, such as Norvasc
- diuretics, such as hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)
- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, such as Capoten
- angiotensin II receptor blockers, such as Cozaar
- renin inhibitors, such as Tekturna
The higher your blood pressure is, the harder your heart has to work. A stronger force of blood can damage your arteries, blood vessels, and heart muscle. This can eventually cause reduced blood flow through your body, leading to:
- atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries from cholesterol buildup, which can lead to a heart attack)
- heart attack
- heart failure
- eye damage
- kidney damage
You may need to try several different medications until you find a single medicine or a combination of medications that effectively lower your blood pressure. You may need to continue your lifestyle changes or take your hypertensive medications for the rest of your life. Some patients are able to use the medication to lower their blood pressure and then maintain that lower pressure with a healthier lifestyle, never needing blood pressure medication again.
There’s a good chance that you can control your blood pressure. It’s also likely that you can reduce or prevent your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, eye damage, and kidney damage. If you already have damage to your heart, eyes, or kidneys, treatment may make the effects of the damage less severe.