The Low-Down on High Blood Pressure Part II - What’s the big deal?

Posted on March 27, 2017 by Joe Jensen

Our last blog post discussed normal vs high blood pressure, or hypertension. With that background, we will now explore the two categories of hypertension, risk factors that lead to hypertension, and why hypertension matters.

There are two categories of hypertension, primary and secondary. Primary hypertension is a bit misleading - it means hypertension without any identifiable cause. While we don’t know exactly what causes primary hypertension, we do know about certain risk factors like age, family history, and race. These risk factors are uncontrollable, however, healthy behaviors like diet and exercise can still reduce the chance that hypertension ever occurs. Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure that results from a single, specific cause such as kidney disease or sleep apnea. Some medications like birth control, ibuprofen, and Sudafed also lead to secondary hypertension. Secondary hypertension often acts in combination with the primary hypertension to make high blood pressure that much worse.

Once someone has hypertension he or she is now at risk for complications like heart disease that are often very serious and sometimes life threatening. In fact, hypertension is the most common risk factor for heart disease. As blood pressure readings increase above 140/90, the risk for these complications increases. Some complications include:

  1. Enlarged heart: Since the heart is a muscle, it grows bigger to push through those higher pressures. This enlargement is associated with heart failure, heart attack, sudden death, and stroke.
  2. Heart failure: ‘Failing’ means the heart is no longer operating normally, not stopping completely. When this happens, fluid can backup into the lungs, legs and sometimes even the liver. This is a very common cause for hospitalizations, and once someone has heart failure, long-term management can be very challenging for patients, doctors, and the healthcare system as a whole.
  3. Stroke: High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for this brain injury.
  4. Chronic kidney disease: High blood pressure can directly lead to kidney disease, but it more often makes pre-existing kidney disease worse.

These are serious consequences, but thankfully controlling hypertension right away can help reduce the risk of all these complications. In fact large clinical trials have demonstrated that proper treatment can decrease complication risk by up to 50%!

Next up, we will explore the treatment of high blood pressure specifically focusing on the most common medications people take, how these pills work, and any side effects these medications may have. Stay tuned.