High blood pressure, or hypertension, means that the pressure in the arterial system is higher than it should be. The arteries are the vessels that carry blood from the heart to all the tissues and organs in the body. Blood that flows through the arterial system has already been to the lungs and picked up oxygen which must be delivered to the tissues. High blood pressure is not usually related to emotional tension, although stress can temporarily increase your blood pressure.
Your blood pressure consists of two separate numbers. The first number, or the number on top, is the systolic pressure. This number represents the pressure at which the heart can first start pushing blood through the system. Physicians usually use the bottom number, or the diastolic pressure, as the greater indicator of an abnormal blood pressure. However, more recent research has indicated that both the systolic and diastolic blood pressures are important indicators in the overall health of the cardiovascular system.
In the majority of individuals the causative agent for primary or essential high blood pressure is never found. Research continues to search for causes for primary blood pressure abnormalities. Although researchers are unsure of the causative agents they do know the types of criteria which must be met in order to make a significant change in an individual’s blood pressure.
In 5% of those diagnosed with high blood pressure physicians are able to diagnose an underlying medical condition or medication which is known to cause hypertension. When the cause is unknown it is called secondary high blood pressure or secondary hypertension. (1)
When individuals have primary or secondary high blood pressure physicians know that several factors or condition can either play a role in the development or will play a role in the resolution. These conditions include smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, too much salt, too much alcohol, stress, chronic kidney disease, or adrenal or thyroid disorders. Factors which are not controllable are age, genetics, and a family history. (2)
Researchers have identified several different disorders which cause secondary hypertension. These include renal, or kidney, disorders. The two most common are renal vascular disease which involves the kidneys blood vessels or renal parenchymal disease which involves the actual tissue of the kidney organ. Endocrine disorders can also cause high blood pressure. The form most common are hyperaldosteronism which is an excessive secretion of aldosterone that influences sodium and potassium levels; Cushing’s syndrome is caused by high levels of cortisol; and adrenal gland tumors and hyperthyroidism which is a generic term that encompasses several thyroid gland problems.
Several neurological conditions which also affect high blood pressure are increased pressure inside the skull, lead poisoning and quadriplegia or the paralysis of voluntary movements in all four limbs. Classes of drugs and chemicals which will also cause hypertension are oral contraceptive, corticosteroids, appetite suppressant, antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, nasal decongestants and cocaine. (3)
Individuals who suffer from primary hypertension are under research investigation in order to determine specific causative agents. Researchers have found that there may be a link with genetic abnormalities for a specific hormone releasing system, genetic abnormalities in the flight or fight system, insulin resistance, arterial stiffening and deficiencies in the body of vasodilators.
Researchers also theorize that inflammation may also play a role in the development of hypertension because it is a predictor in the presence of elevated C reactive protein levels, which is a blood test marker of inflammation.
Treatment for hypertension will be significantly similar weather is the diagnosis is primary or secondary hypertension. However, in secondary hypertension the causative agent will first be eliminated in order to decrease the aggression of the condition or eliminated altogether.
(1) American Heart Association: Understand Your Risk for High Blood Pressure
(2) American Heart Association: Understand Your Risk for High Blood Pressure
(3) MedlinePlus: Drug-Induced Hypertension
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What Causes High Blood Pressure
Beth Isreael Deaconess Medical Center: High Blood Pressue Could be Caused by a Common Virus
Kids Health: High Blood Pressure
Center for Disease Control and Prevention: High Blood Pressure