What is essential hypertension?
Essential hypertension, also called primary hypertension, is high blood pressure (over 140/90 mmHg) without any identifiable cause. Blood pressure is determined by the force of blood against the artery walls and the amount of blood the heart pumps. In most cases, the high blood pressure remains unnoticed or causes mild or unspecific symptoms such as headache, dizziness and visual changes. Hypertension could affect nearly everyone eventually, but it can also be treatable once detected early on.
Essential, or primary hypertension, tends to develop over many years without any particular known cause. However, several factors are known to increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. People who have a family member with high blood pressure are at risk, as are people who are overweight, who take little exercise, who smoke or who drink alcohol. People with diabetes also have a higher risk of developing this condition. Essential hypertension generally affects adults, and becomes more common with age.
High blood pressure often has no symptoms. Some people may have mild, unspecific headaches. Symptoms may occur if the blood pressure is severe and begins to cause damage to organs. These symptoms include pounding headache, dizziness, blurred vision, swelling of the feet and shortness of breath.
The diagnosis is often made during a routine measurement of blood pressure. If it is uncertain whether a person genuinely has high blood pressure, it may be necessary to undergo a 24-hour long test, during which the blood pressure is measured at points throughout the day. This can help people who have 'white coat hypertension', a condition where the act of having the blood pressure measured causes the blood pressure to rise.
Effective treatment of essential hypertension is a combination of lifestyle changes (daily exercise, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking and reducing stress) and medications to reduce blood pressure.
Taking regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight help to prevent the development of high blood pressure. Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake may also be helpful in preventing this condition. Other medical conditions, such as diabetes, should be managed as well as possible.
Other names for essential hypertension
- High blood pressure
- Essential hypertension
- Arterial hypertension
- Primary hypertension