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A Definition and Overview of Essential Hypertension

written by: Roma Lightsey, RN, BSN • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/13/2010

The essential hypertension definition means that there is no known cause for hypertension. However, there are some risk factors that you can control. Learn about diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

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    Essential Hypertension-On the Rise

    The essential hypertension definition means that there is no known or identifiable cause for hypertension. Often called simply hypertension, it affects 90-95% of those with hypertension. Secondary hypertension has a known cause, typically kidney disease, kidney failure, high aldosterone levels in the blood, or an adrenal tumor. In this article we'll refer to essential hypertension as hypertension. For many years, hypertension was considered a blood pressure reading of 140/90 or greater, with 120/80 considered normal. Prehypertension is now any reading from 120/80 to 139/89. Even a slight increase in blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.

    The increase in obesity in children has shown an alarming trend: an estimated 5% of children age 18 and under have hypertension. Thirty years ago only about 1% of that population had hypertension. In a recent 12-year study of 60,000 fifth-graders in West Virginia, 14% of children at a normal weight, and 21% of overweight but not obese children had high blood pressure. Dr. Farpour-Lambert of the University Hospitals of Geneva, in Switzerland says that the earliest signs of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) are detectable at age 4. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association recommend routine blood pressure screening starting at age 3.

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    Dangers of Untreated Hypertension

    Hypertension affects all the major body systems
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    Signs and Symptoms

    Hypertension rarely has symptoms, and is often called "the silent killer." A mild headache may be the only symptom experienced. Other signs and symptoms include red or pale skin, severe chest pain, confusion, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and perspiration. The Mayo Clinic warns that blood pressure can be dangerously high and still not have any symptoms. Some 43 million Americans have hypertension or take medication to control blood pressure.

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    Causes of Essential Hypertension

    Although the cause of essential hypertension is often considered unknown, this is only partially true because scientists have little information on which genes or variations actually cause high blood pressure. Hypertension tends to run in families and affects African Americans more than Caucasians or Mexican Americans. Men tend to have hypertension more than women, and blood pressure for both sexes increases with age. These risk factors cannot be changed.

    Even with a family history of hypertension, there are many risk factors which can be controlled. Multiple medical studies support maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of exercise, reducing salt intake and eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption also increase the risk of hypertension.

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    Diagnosis

    Hypertension may go undetected until blood pressure is checked at a physician's office or clinic. One elevated reading does not mean that the patient has high blood pressure; it simply means that a series of blood pressures should be taken over time to determine the normal range for that person. Blood pressure normally fluctuates, increasing during stress or pain.

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    Treatment

    In patients with prehypertension, lifestyle changes may be suggested before beginning medication. Losing even a small amount of weight, regular exercise, limiting salt intake, and not smoking may delay the need for blood pressure medication. Most people who take medication for hypertension take two or more drugs, since they work in different ways to control blood pressure.

    Diuretics, often called "water pills" increase urine output and lower the volume of fluid in the body. Lasix is a common diuretic. ACE inhibitors such as Lotensin and calcium channel blockers such as Norvasc relax blood vessels, which decreases pressure. Beta-blockers such as Coreg lower the heart rate and lessen the heart's demand for oxygen.

    Managing hypertension is a lifelong process, and it is important to take all medications as ordered. When beginning a new medication, dosage adjustments may be needed. Regular checkups to monitor your progress are part of the management of hypertension.

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    References

    American Academy of Pediatrics- http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/heart/pages/High-Blood-Pressure-in-Children.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token

    The American Heart Association-http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/circulationaha;101/3/329

    Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts-http://www.cvphysiology.com/Blood%20Pressure/BP024.htm

    Mayo Clinic- http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/DS00100/DSECTION=symptoms

    New York Times-http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/essential-hypertension/overview.html?print=1

    The Wall Street Journal- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703964104575335053597527716.html

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    Image Credit

    Healthcentral.com - http://www.healthcentral.com/heart-disease/more-images-6877-146.html