Signs of high blood pressure and treatment options

Sep 7, 2010 at 2:20 p.m. ET

High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, is often called a “silent killer” because it has no initial symptoms. But there are a few flags you should be raising if the condition runs in your family.

Woman having blood pressure taken

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure applied to the walls of the heart's arteries as it pumps blood to the rest of the body. It's measured with two numbers: systolic pressure (when the heart contracts and pumps) and diastolic pressure (when the heart fills with blood during heartbeats). The higher the measure, the more pressure your arteries feel with each heartbeat.

Cause and symptoms

While the reason high blood pressure develops is unknown, there are several risk factors that put a person at an increased risk of developing the disease: age, race (African Americans develop it more frequently than Caucasians), living in poverty, family history, inactivity, stress, salt intake, alcohol and cigarette use, taking birth control pills,  certain medications, and obesity.

Because hypertension has been dubbed "the silent killer," there are rarely any signs or symptoms that you have the disease. A check up from your doctor is the best way to confirm diagnosis. That being said, some people have reported experiencing symptoms like headache, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, and chest pain.

The long-term result of the disease is heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, eye damage and, possibly, aneurysms.

How to treat hypertension

Hypertension can develop over the years or can develop rapidly, depending on a person's long-term health, so one of the best ways to prevent and even treat the disease is to make some lifestyle changes. Controlling weight, increasing physical activity, and eating a balanced diet are key; so is quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol use.

For people who require medical treatment, there are several options on the market including diuretics (it helps excrete sodium from the body) and beta-blockers (they reduce the heart's contraction rate).

Holistic therapies also may be an option. Acupuncture and yoga have been shown to reduce hypertension by relaxing the body and, thereby, the heart. Herbs may help: garlic, fish oil, soy, coenzyme Q10, and L-arginine have all been shown to affect the heart's performance in a positive way.

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