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High blood pressure—also known as hypertension—is a condition that increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, coronary heart disease, and other serious health problems. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the inside walls of arteries. The harder your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries are, the higher your blood pressure rises. Over time, the wear and tear caused by untreated high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and vital organs.
About one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet, because high blood pressure itself usually has no symptoms, the CDC says about 20 percent of those with the condition aren't aware they have it. That's why getting your blood pressure checked periodically is so important, even if you are feeling fine. Otherwise, you may not realize there is a problem until a complication arises—indicating that possible permanent damage may have already been done.
Fortunately, blood pressure is easily measured with a simple, noninvasive test. Once you know you have high blood pressure, it can be treated with lifestyle changes and blood pressure-lowering medication.
High blood pressure can be divided into two broad categories based on its cause.
Also called essential hypertension, primary hypertension has no clear-cut cause, although genetic and lifestyle risk factors increase the odds of developing it. This type of high blood pressure usually develops gradually over many years. Between 90 and 95 percent of high blood pressure cases in adults fall into this category.
Secondary hypertension is the direct result of another underlying health condition, or can be the side effect of a drug. It often develops suddenly, and it sometimes causes higher blood pressure than does primary hypertension. Secondary hypertension accounts for 2 to 10 percent of high blood pressure cases, as well as most cases in preadolescent children. Secondary hypertension is broken down further into a number of types:
Written by: The Healthline Editorial Team
Published on: Jul 29, 2010
Medically reviewed on: Nov 06, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA
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