doctor taking patient's blood pressure.

Hypertension is the more clinical term for high blood pressure.  This is a very common condition in the Unites States that affects nearly 50% of the population.  While hypertension can lead to a variety of cardiovascular complications, it is a very manageable condition with proper treatment.

strip of paper that says blood pressure.Understanding Hypertension

Your heart pumps blood throughout your body through its arteries.  The blood pressure is the force of blood against your arteries as the heart pumps.  Normal blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day and adjusts to regular daily activities.

Problems surface when blood pressure stays high for extended periods of time.  When this happens, it causes the heart to work harder, leading to heart attack, stroke, aneurism, or other cardiovascular complications.

Know the Numbers

Blood pressure is tested by measuring the amount of pressure in your arteries in two different states of the heartbeat.   You may have heard that normal blood pressure is “120 over 80.”  The first number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.  This is called the systolic pressure.  The second number measures the pressure in your arteries between heart beats.  This is the diastolic pressure.

Blood Pressure Measurement 

Top Number (Systolic) = Artery pressure when your heart beats.

Bottom Number (Diastolic) = Artery pressure between heart beats.

Example:  120/80

Blood pressure increases when there is more resistance to the blood flow in your arteries.   The resistance is caused by a combination of the amount of blood your heart pumps and the diameter of your arteries.  The pressure measurement is reported as millimeters of mercury or “mm Hg.” 

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association published the following guidelines in 2017 defining hypertension.

Blood Pressure CategorySystolic Blood Pressure Diastolic Blood Pressure
  NormalLess than 120 mm HgandLess than 80 mm Hg
  ElevatedBetween 120 and 129 mm HgandLess than 80 mm Hg
  Stage 1Between 130 and 139 mm HgorBetween 80-89 mm Hg
  Stage 2Greater than 140 mm HgorGreater than 90 mm Hg

As this chart illustrates, a blood pressure reading less than 120/80 is normal whereas a reading greater than 140/90 is stage 2 hypertension.

symptoms of hypertension.Symptoms of Hypertension

The most troubling fact about hypertension is that because symptoms are not obvious, many people aren’t even aware of their condition.

You can have high blood pressure for many years without any symptoms.  Occasionally, some people may experience headaches, breathing difficulties, or nosebleeds, but these symptoms are vague and don’t often occur until the condition is critical. 

Without treatment, serious health conditions like heart disease and stroke can happen.  The good news is that it is easily detectable, treatable, and manageable.

Causes of Hypertension 

Types of Hypertension

There are two types of high blood pressure, known as primary and secondary hypertension.  Primary hypertension, also referred to as essential hypertension, gradually develops over many years, and there is no identifiable cause.

overweight man eating chips.Secondary hypertension, on the other hand, is known to be caused by underlying conditions such as: 

  • Adrenal gland tumors
  • Congenital (born with) blood vessel defects 
  • Illegal drugs
  • Kidney disease
  • Medications 
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Thyroid problems

Both primary and secondary hypertension are treatable.

Risk factors

Hypertension has a few common aspects, known as risk factors, which contribute to the onset of the condition.  These risk factors include:

  • Age – Risk increases with age.
  • Alcohol – Heavy drinking increases risk.
  • Chronic conditions – Some diseases increase risk.
  • Genetics – Risk runs in families.
  • Obesity The more you weigh, the higher the risk.
  • Potassium deficiency – Too little potassium in diet increases risk.
  • Race – Risk is higher with African heritage.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle – Higher risk comes with an inactive lifestyle.
  • Salt – A high-sodium diet increases risk.
  • Stress – Risk increases with stress.
  • Tobacco – Risk increases with tobacco use.

While hypertension is most common in adults, a growing number of children have high blood pressure, which is typically due to an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.


When high blood pressure is not addressed and the condition goes uncontrolled for an extended time, serious, and sometimes fatal, complications can occur.

Unmanaged hypertension leads to:  

  • Aneurysm
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Vision loss
  • Kidney failure
  • Metabolism problems
  • Memory & cognitive difficulty (dementia)

While hypertension can have serious and fatal consequences, we reiterate that the condition is easily identified and treatable.

Diagnosis and Treatment


checking blood pressure.Hypertension is typically diagnosed during a routine wellness examination.  A blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope or an electronic sensor will be used to get an accurate reading.   Two or more readings at separate appointments are typically necessary before making a diagnosis.


The initial treatment for hypertension typically includes lifestyle adjustments of one or more of the following:

  • Diet – Eat a healthier diet with less salt
  • Exercise – Regular physical exercise
  • Moderate – Restrain or eliminate alcohol consumption
  • Stress-reduction – Avoid or manage stress

When necessary, medication is prescribed to manage hypertension.   The medication or combination of medications will depend on the individual.  Lifestyle and underlying medical conditions play a factor in medication selection.

Endocrinology Specialists

The doctors at Rocky Mountain Diabetes Center are endocrinology experts and highly trained to identify and effectively treat hypertension and other underlying conditions.

If you or someone you love is experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions above, call Rocky Mountain Diabetes for an appointment, or fill out the form below.  

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