Blood pressure is the amount of force required for the heart to circulate blood through the body. High blood pressure (hypertension) occurs when the pressure is above normal levels.
Blood Pressure Terms
Blood Pressure Readings
How Common is Hypertension?
What Causes It?
What Are the Risk Factors?
Risks of Untreated Hypertension
How Is It Diagnosed?
Can High Blood Pressure Be Prevented?
What Should You Do Next?
Primary or essential hypertension means that the cause is undetermined or unknown and accounts for 90-95% of all cases of high blood pressure.
Secondary hypertension means that the high blood pressure results from an underlying, identifiable, often correctable cause such as kidney disease, adrenal disorders, thyroid disorders, coarctation of aorta, oral contraceptives, alcohol, or others. Secondary hypertension accounts for about 5-10% of all high blood pressure.
Systolic blood pressure is the upper of the two numbers. This indicates the pressure in the arteries of your arm when the heart muscle is contracting.
Diastolic blood pressure is the lower of the two numbers. This indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is at rest between contractions.
New blood pressure definitions, released in May 2003 by the National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:
|Normal blood pressure||Less than 120 mm Hg||Less than 80 mm Hg|
|Pre-hypertension||120 - 139 mm Hg||80 - 89 mm Hg|
|Stage 1 hypertension||140 - 159 mm Hg||90 - 99 mm Hg|
|Stage 2 hypertension||160 mm Hg or more||100 mm Hg or more|
More than 50 million American adults - 1 in 4 - have high blood pressure.
Hypertension is more common in black adults (32%) than in white (23%) or Mexican American (23%) adults.
Middle-aged Americans face a 90% chance of developing high blood pressure during their lives.
The causes of high blood pressure vary. Often, the cause is not known. Possible causes are:
- A narrowing of the arteries, a greater than normal volume of blood, or the heart beating faster or more forcefully than normal will cause increased pressure against the artery walls.
- High blood pressure might also be caused by another medical problem such as diseases of the kidneys, adrenal glands, thyroid gland, or parathyroid glands.
- The use of many medications can cause high blood pressure including oral birth control pills, NSAIDS (Advil, etc.), decongestants, antidepressants, ergotamine alkaloids, lithium, Cyclosporine, Plant medicines (ephedra et al).
- Sensitivities to foods, or food allergies/intolerances are a frequently undiagnosed cause of high blood pressure.
- Deficiencies of magnesium, potassium, or other nutrients important for heart health may be an underlying cause of high blood pressure.
- Heavy metal toxicity, such as excess mercury, lead, or cadmium, may also play a significant, but often overlooked, role in the development of high blood pressure.
- Chronic stress and its hormonal effects can cause high blood pressure.
- Aging. Many Americans tend to develop high blood pressure as they get older, but this is not a part of healthy aging.
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Prehypertension (120–139/80–89 mmHg)
- Race. African Americans may get hypertension earlier in life than whites and its
- negative effects are greater in blacks.
- Chronic stress
- Cigarette smoking
- Alcohol use/abuse
- Insulin resistance or diabetes. Hyperlipidemia (high blood trigly
- cerides or cholesterol)
- Western cultures in general are at risk for high blood pressure. This is most likely due to diet and lifestyle habits.
Untreated severe high blood pressure is a risk factor for many conditions such as:
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) especially of vessels to the brain, heart, kidneys, and extremities.
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure.
Depending on the cause, the symptoms of high blood pressure may vary, but include:
- May have no symptoms until complications develop
- Flushed face
- Epistaxis (nosebleed)
- Retinal hemorrhage (bleeding in the retina of the eye)
- Excess perspiration
- Weakness Polyuria (frequ
- ent urination)
- Leg claudication (cramping in legs with walking)
It should be emphasized that a single reading of high blood pressure does not constitute a diagnosis of hypertension. At least two blood pressure measurements should be taken on each of 3 days before a person is diagnosed as hypertensive. When a person is in the lower ranges, follow-up blood pressure readings are recommended.
Further evaluation of hypertension and its causes includes:
- Personal and family health history
- Physical examination
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Laboratory tests:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC)
- Blood Chemistry (creatinine; K; Na; BUN, Creatinine, glucose, thyroid)
- Fasting Cholesterol: Total, HDL, and LDL
- Other cardiac risk markers such as Cardio-CRP, Lipoprotein (a),
- Fasting serum insulin
- For more severe hypertension or hypertension in younger patients, other testing may be done.
- Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring
- Renal scintigraphy
- Chest x-ray
- Other less conventional tests for hypertension which may be performed by naturopathic physicians or holistically oriented physicians include:
- Urine or hair heavy metal testing
- Serum test for food allergies and sensitivities
- WBC or RBC Magnesium
- Testing of adrenal stress hormones.
Conventional treatment of hypertension may include one or more of the following:
- Diet. Sodium (salt) restriction is often recommended.
- Exercise and weight reduction may be recommended.
- Lifestyle. Stopping smoking and decreasing alcohol may be recommended.
- Medications are the main conventional treatment for high blood pressure. . These may be tried one at a time or in certain combinations. Note: these medications have many side effects.
- Diuretics. Diuretics are sometimes called "water pills" because they work in the kidney and flush excess water and sodium from the body.
- Beta-blockers. Beta-blockers reduce nerve impulses to the heart and blood vessels. This makes the heart beat slower and with less force. Blood pressure drops and the heart works less hard.
- ACE inhibitors. Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors prevent the formation of a hormone called angiotensin II, which normally causes blood vessels to narrow. The ACE inhibitors cause the vessels to relax and blood pressure goes down.
- Angiotensin antagonists. Angiotensin antagonists shield blood vessels from angiotensin II. As a result, the vessels become wider and blood pressure goes down.
- Calcium channel blockers (CCBs). CCBs keep calcium from entering the muscle cells of the heart and blood vessels. This causes the blood vessels to relax and pressure goes down.
- Alpha-blockers. Alpha-blockers reduce nerve impulses to blood vessels, which allows blood to pass more easily, causing the blood pressure to go down.
- Alpha-beta-blockers. Alpha-beta-blockers work the same way as alpha-blockers but also slow the heartbeat, as beta-blockers do. As a result, less blood is pumped through the vessels and the blood pressure goes down.
- Nervous system inhibitors. Nervous system inhibitors relax blood vessels by controlling nerve impulses. This causes the blood vessels to become wider and the blood pressure to go down.
- Vasodilators. Vasodilators directly open blood vessels by relaxing the muscle in the vessel walls, causing the blood pressure to go down.
Goals of diagnosis include identification and treatment of the possible causes:
- Food allergies.
- Feavy metal toxicity.
- Nutrient deficiencies.
- Insulin resistance.
- Other possible underlying causes of hypertension such as thyroid disease, adrenal problems, etc.
Goals of treatment
The goal of treatment is to decrease blood pressure with little or no need for medication through:
- Development lifestyle practices, including exercise, which support heart health.
- Food/eating plan which supports cardiac and overall health.
- Supplements to replace nutrient deficiencies, support general health, and lower blood pressure.
Lifystyle plays an important role in the control of high blood pressure. Consider taking the following actions:
- Stress reduction and daily relaxation including deep breathing and meditation.
- Weight reduction (to be attained through both dietary changes and exercise). A modest weight loss can normalize blood pressure levels even without reaching ideal weight.
- Exercise. Studies indicate that aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming, and bicycling can reduce blood pressure, even in the absence of weight loss. You should consult a physician before starting any exercise program.
- If a smoker, stop.
- Significantly reduce or stop alcohol consumption.
Foods that Lower Blood Pressure
Click here for self-help steps you can take for a healthier High Blood Pressure Diet.
Consult your physician for proper individualized selection of supplements that is right for you, as well as proper dosing. Potassium should not be taken with certain diuretics. Any nutrients which lower blood pressure will reduce your need for blood pressure medications. Anyone taking blood pressure medications should only undertake a supplement plan under the supervision of a nutritionally-oriented physician.
- High potency multivitamin. This will be an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and microminerals which are essential for cardiovascular health, blood vessel integrity, blood sugar control, and more.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CO-Q10). Coenzyme Q10 is a nutrient that plays a supportive role in cardiovascular health and has been shown to have a significant effect on blood pressure.
- Minerals: Magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Increasing these minerals has been shown to be effective in the treatment of hypertension. Some of these minerals are depleted by blood-pressure reducing medications.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Shown to reduce blood pressure in people with mild hypertension.
- Other nutrients such as vitamins C and E, and amino acids Taurine,
- Arginine, and L-Carnitine are also effective in the treatment of high blood pressure.
There are a variety of botanical medicines that are effective at lowering blood pressure.
Consult your physician for assistance in selecting the most effective herbs for you. Some herbs are toxic in higher doses and must be dosed very carefully. Also, it's essential to make sure that herbal medicines are safe with any pharmaceutical drugs you may be taking.
Garlic is an extremely safe herb that lowers blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and lowers clotting. Consult a physician before taking garlic if you are on blood-thinning medications such as coumadin.
Homeopathic medicines are effective in the treatment of high blood pressure. Homeopathic medicine is highly individualized to a specific patient. Consult a physician with training in homeopathy for assistance in selecting the homeopathic remedy that is right for you.
Supplement Quality Is Important
Our intention when we use nutritional and botanical supplements is for these treatments to have a physiological effect and clinical benefit, meaning that they are effective and your health improves.
The quality of nutritional supplements in the general marketplace is suspect. In order to get the maximum benefit to your health, be sure you purchase the highest quality nutritional supplements.
Since the cause of most hypertension is not known, prevention is more difficult. However, addressing the modifiable risk factors will help to prevent the development of hypertension.
A healthier nutrient-rich high fiber diet, regular exercise, maintaining optimal body weight, and good nutrient status are effective prevention strategies.
The doctors at The Connecticut Center for Health are very experienced in the treatment of high blood pressure. If you have (or suspect you have) high blood pressure and want to learn more about natural treatments for this condition, we recommend that you contact one of our clinics for a free consultation about hypertension or an appointment.