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High Blood Pressure

Also called: Hypertension

- Summary
- About high blood pressure
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment options
- Lifestyle considerations
- Women's issues
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Kerry Prewitt, M.D., FACC
Abdou Elhendy, MD, PhD, FACC, FAHA
Stephen J. Gulotta, M.D., FACC, FCCP, FACP


High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major health problem in the United States. Untreated, high blood pressure will cause the heart to eventually overwork itself to the point at which serious damage can occur. For Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure (the force of blood against artery walls).instance, the heart muscle can thicken (hypertrophy) and function abnormally, or dilate and contract less forcefully (dilated cardiomyopathy). High blood pressure can also cause injury to the brain, the eyes and the kidneys, where delicate arteries are damaged by the increased pressure.

High blood pressure is considered a major risk factor for heart attack, heart failure and stroke. About half of people having first-time heart attacks and two-thirds of people having first-time strokes suffer from high blood pressure. Most cases of high blood pressure have no cure, but the overwhelming majority can be managed and controlled with diet and medication.

High blood pressure affects one out of every three Americans or 65 million people, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).  An additional 28 percent of Americans, or 59 million people, have prehypertension, which is defined as blood pressure that is on the borderline between normal and elevated. Of the people with high blood pressure, 28 percent do not know they have the condition. Among the 61 percent who are under treatment, only 35 percent have their blood pressure adequately controlled.  

High blood pressure is not evenly distributed throughout the population. Until age 55, it is more common among men than women. However, after menopause (which occurs usually around age 50), women's blood pressure steadily risks, possibly because of the loss of hormones. By age 75, high blood pressure is more common among women than men.

High blood pressure also occurs disproportionately more often in minority communities. According to the AHA, the prevalence of high blood pressure among black Americans is the highest in the world. Black women, especially, are prone to high blood pressure. Statistically, they have an 85 percent higher rate of medical care visits for high blood pressure than white women. Similarly, people of Hispanic descent, as well as those of American Indian of Alaskan native ancestry, suffer from higher rates of high blood pressure.

High blood pressure rates are also rising among American children, alongside an epidemic of obesity. Researchers report that supplementing infant formula with polyunsaturated fatty acids appears to have a beneficial impact on blood pressure later on in childhood. Previous studies already showed that breast milk contains such fatty acids and that breast-fed children had lower blood pressures than those who were formula-fed.

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Review Date: 02-14-2007

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