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Hypertension

Hypertension or high blood pressure is a cardiac chronic medical condition in which the systemic arterial blood pressure is elevated. It is the opposite of hypotension. Hypertension is classified as either primary (essential) or secondary. About 90-95% of cases are termed "primary hypertension", which refers to high blood pressure for which no medical cause can be found. The remaining 5-10% of cases (secondary hypertension) are caused by other conditions that affect the kidneys, arteries, heart, or endocrine system.

Persistent hypertension is one of the risk factors for stroke, myocardial infarction, heart failure and arterial aneurysm, and is a leading cause of chronic kidney failure. Moderate elevation of arterial blood pressure leads to shortened life expectancy. Dietary and lifestyle changes can improve blood pressure control and decrease the risk of associated health complications, although drug treatment may prove necessary in patients for whom lifestyle changes prove ineffective or insufficient.

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SYMPTOMS
Mild to moderate essential hypertension is usually asymptomatic.

Accelerated Hypertension
Accelerated hypertension is associated with headache, drowsiness, confusion, vision disorders, nausea, and vomiting symptoms which are collectively referred to as hypertensive encephalopathy. Hypertensive encephalopathy is caused by severe small blood vessel congestion and brain swelling, which is reversible if blood pressure is lowered.

Children
Some signs and symptoms are especially important in newborns and infants such as failure to thrive, seizures, irritability, lack of energy, and difficulty breathing. In children, hypertension can cause headache, fatigue, blurred vision, nosebleeds, and facial paralysis.

Even with the above clinical symptoms, the true incidence of pediatric hypertension is not known. In adults, hypertension has been defined due to the adverse effects caused by hypertension. However, in children, similar studies have not been performed thoroughly to link any adverse effects with the increase in blood pressure. Therefore, the prevalence of pediatric hypertension remains unknown due to the lack of scientific knowledge.

Secondary Hypertension
Some additional signs and symptoms suggest that the hypertension is caused by disorders in hormone regulation. Hypertension combined with obesity distributed on the trunk of the body, accumulated fat on the back of the neck ('buffalo hump'), wide purple marks on the abdomen (abdominal striae), or the recent onset of diabetes suggests that an individual has a hormone disorder known as Cushing's syndrome. Hypertension caused by other hormone disorders such as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or growth hormone excess will be accompanied by additional symptoms specific to these disorders. For example, hyperthyrodism can cause weight loss, tremors, heart rate abnormalities, reddening of the palms, and increased sweating. Signs and symptoms associated with growth hormone excess include coarsening of facial features, protrusion of the lower jaw, enlargement of the tongue, excessive hair growth, darkening of the skin color, and excessive sweating. Other hormone disorders like hyperaldosteronism may cause less specific symptoms such as numbness, excessive urination, excessive sweating, electrolyte imbalances and dehydration, and elevated blood alkalinity. 

Pregnancy
Hypertension in pregnant women is one symptom of pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia can progress to a life-threatening condition called eclampsia, which is the development of protein in the urine, generalized swelling, and severe seizures. Other symptoms indicating that brain function is becoming impaired may precede these seizures such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, and vision loss.

In addition, the systemic vascular resistance and blood pressure decrease during pregnancy. The body must compensate by increasing cardiac output and blood volume to provide sufficient circulation in the utero-placental arterial bed.

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CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS

Essential Hypertension
Essential hypertension is the most prevalent hypertension type, affecting 90-95% of hypertensive patients. Although no direct cause has been identified, there are many factors such as sedentary lifestyle, smoking, stress, visceral obesity, potassium deficiency (hypokalemia), obesity (more than 85% of cases occur in those with a body mass index greater than salt (sodium) sensitivity, alcohol intake, and vitamin D deficiency that increase the risk of developing hypertension. Risk also increases with aging, some inherited genetic mutations, and having a family history of hypertension. An elevated level of renin, a hormone secreted by the kidney, is another risk factor, as is sympathetic nervous system overactivity. Insulin resistance, which is a component of syndrome X (or the metabolic syndrome), is also thought to contribute to hypertension. Recent studies have implicated low birth weight as a risk factor for adult essential hypertension.

Secondary Hypertension
Secondary hypertension by definition results from an identifiable cause. This type is important to recognize since it's treated differently to essential hypertension, by treating the underlying cause of the elevated blood pressure. Hypertension results in the compromise or imbalance of the pathophysiological mechanisms, such as the hormone-regulating endocrine system, that regulate blood plasma volume and heart function. Many conditions cause hypertension, some are common and well recognized secondary causes such as Cushing's syndrome, which is a condition where the adrenal glands overproduce the hormone cortisol. In addition, hypertension is caused by other conditions that cause hormone changes such as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and certain tumors of the adrenal medulla (e.g., pheochromocytoma). Other common causes of secondary hypertension include kidney disease, obesity/metabolic disorder, pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, the congenital defect known as coarctation of the aorta, and certain prescription and illegal drugs.

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DIAGNOSIS
Hypertension is generally diagnosed on the basis of a persistently high blood pressure. Usually this requires three separate sphygmomanometer measurements at least one week apart. Often, this entails three separate visits to the physician's office. Initial assessment of the hypertensive patient should include a complete history and physical examination. Exceptionally, if the elevation is extreme, or if symptoms of organ damage are present then the diagnosis may be given and treatment started immediately.

Once the diagnosis of hypertension has been made, physicians will attempt to identify the underlying cause based on risk factors and other symptoms, if present. Secondary hypertension is more common in preadolescent children, with most cases caused by renal disease. Primary or essential hypertension is more common in adolescents and has multiple risk factors, including obesity and a family history of hypertension. Laboratory tests can also be performed to identify possible causes of secondary hypertension, and determine if hypertension has caused damage to the heart, eyes, and kidneys. Additional tests for Diabetes and high cholesterol levels are also usually performed because they are additional risk factors for the development of heart disease require treatment.

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TREATMENT OPTIONS

Lifestyle modifications
The first line of treatment for hypertension is the same as the recommended preventative lifestyle changes such as the dietary changes, physical exercise, and weight loss, which have all been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension. If hypertension is high enough to justify immediate use of medications, lifestyle changes are still recommended in conjunction with medication. Drug prescription should take into account the patient's absolute cardiovascular risk (including risk of myocardial infarction and stroke) as well as blood pressure readings, in order to gain a more accurate picture of the patient's cardiovascular profile. Different programs aimed to reduce psychological stress such as biofeedback, relaxation or meditation are advertised to reduce hypertension. However, in general claims of efficacy are not supported by scientific studies, which have been in general of low quality.

Regarding dietary changes, a low sodium diet is beneficial; A Cochrane review published in 2008 concluded that a long-term (more than 4 weeks) low sodium diet in Caucasians has a useful effect to reduce blood pressure, both in people with hypertension and in people with normal blood pressure. Also, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a diet promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the NIH, a United States government organization) to control hypertension. A major feature of the plan is limiting intake of sodium, and it also generally encourages the consumption of nuts, whole grains, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables while lowering the consumption of red meats, sweets, and sugar. It is also rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as protein.

Medications

Antihypertensive medications
Several classes of medications, collectively referred to as antihypertensive drugs, are currently available for treating hypertension. Agents within a particular class generally share a similar pharmacologic mechanism of action, and in many cases have an affinity for similar cellular receptors. An exception to this rule is the diuretics, which are grouped together for the sake of simplicity but actually exert their effects by a number of different mechanisms.

Reduction of the blood pressure by 5 mmHg can decrease the risk of stroke by 34%, of ischaemic heart disease by 21%, and reduce the likelihood of dementia, heart failure, and mortality from cardiovascular disease. The aim of treatment should be reduce blood pressure to <140/90 mmHg for most individuals, and lower for individuals with diabetes or kidney disease (some medical professionals recommend keeping levels below 120/80 mmHg). If the blood pressure goal is not met, a change in treatment should be made as therapeutic inertia is a clear impediment to blood pressure control. Comorbidity also plays a role in determining target blood pressure, with lower BP targets applying to patients with end-organ damage or proteinuria.

Often multiple drugs are combined to achieve the goal blood pressure. Commonly used prescription drugs include:

  • ACE inhibitors (e.g., captopril)
  • Alpha blockers (e.g., prazosin)
  • Angiotensin II receptor antagonists (e.g., losartan)
  • Beta blockers (e.g., propranolol)
  • Calcium channel blockers (e.g., verapamil)
  • Diuretics (e.g. hydrochlorothiazide)
  • Direct renin inhibitors (e.g., aliskiren)

Some examples of common combined prescription drug treatments include:

  • A fixed combination of an ACE inhibitor and a calcium channel blocker. One example of this is the combination of perindopril and amlodipine, the efficacy of which has been demonstrated in individuals with glucose intolerance or metabolic syndrome.
  • A fixed combination of a diuretic and an ARB.

Combinations of an ACE inhibitor or angiotensin II-receptor antagonist, a diuretic and an NSAID (including selective COX-2 inhibitors and non-prescribed drugs such as ibuprofen) should be avoided whenever possible due to a high documented risk of acute renal failure. 

In the elderly
Treating moderate to severe high blood pressure with prescription medications decreases death rates in those under 80 years of age however there is no decrease in those over 80 years old. Even though there was no decrease in total mortality, the results showed similarities between cardiovascular mortality and morbidity.

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