What Is the Definition of Hypertension?

Overview

Hypertension is the medical term that describes high blood pressure. As the heart pumps blood through the arteries, the blood exerts force against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is a measure of that force. Blood pressure that stays too high for too long—hypertension—can lead to serious health problems, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.

Identification

Your blood pressure reading consists of two numbers, one written above the other. The top number measures your systolic pressure, the pressure created in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number measures diastolic pressure, the pressure between beats when your heart is at rest. You have hypertension if your systolic pressure is consistently over 140 or if your diastolic pressure is consistently over 90.

Types

The cause of hypertension often remains unknown. Terms used to identify this disorder, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, include primary hypertension, essential hypertension and idiopathic hypertension. Secondary hypertension refers to hypertension that develops because of some other condition.

Risk Factors

Anyone can have hypertension. The National Institutes of Health reports that approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States have it. However, some people have a greater risk for developing hypertension than others. Males over age 45 and females over age 55 have a greater risk because blood pressure levels tend to get higher with age. African-American adults have hypertension more often than Caucasian or Hispanic American adults, and being overweight or obese increases your risk of having hypertension.

Symptoms

Most cases of hypertension have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they include chest pain, irregular heartbeat, confusion, fatigue, ear noise, nosebleed and changes in vision. A severe headache may also indicate hypertension. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

Prevention

Living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent hypertension. Recommendations from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute stress that you should eat a healthy low-sodium diet, maintain a healthy weight, get regular physical exercise, don’t smoke and learn to manage your stress. Following these guidelines will significantly lower your risk of developing hypertension.

About this Author

Linda Hinkle has written professionally for more than four years for several online companies, including WiseGeek and others. Her areas of specialty include health and wellness, education and outdoor recreation. She is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas with a bachelor\’s degree in education.