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Hypertension: An Overview
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High blood pressure or arterial hypertension is a medical disorder which is characterized by chronic elevation of blood pressure. This elevation as measured by readings exceeding 140/90mm.Hg.

There are two forms of hypertension, essential (primary) and secondary or symptomatic hypertension.

As the names suggest essential hypertension occurs in the vast majority of cases and is not a symptom of any disease but a specific disease, as compared to secondary hypertension which are many and are symptoms of underlying diseases.

Hypertension is a very common disorder both in the developed and developing countries. Cardiovascular diseases and their complications, of which essential hypertension plays a significant role, are by far the leading causes of death in the developed world. In many such societies twenty five to thirty percent of the adult population is hypertensive, with this incidence and the risks of complications increasing with advancing age.

Essential hypertension has been described as a silent killer because there are generally no symptoms and signs of the disease. It may go undetected for many years and even a decade or two before complications such as heart attacks are stroke develop which often prove fatal.

At the same time, however, secondary arterial hypertension which occupy a very small percentage of cases are usually present with symptoms and signs reflective of the underlying diseases.

The common causes of secondary hypertension are as follows:

1. Pregnancy. Pregnancy induced hypertension is a fairly common phenomenon and occurs in about twenty five to thirty percent of cases. There is a potentially life threatening situation that sometimes develop, especially with women in their first pregnancy. This condition is called eclamptic fits or seizures and occurs when there is ankle edema, proteinuria and high blood pressure. A sudden rise in pressure then results in generalized seizures which can result in death of the affected patient. 2. Renal artery stenosis. This should be suspected in sudden onset of high blood pressure in young patients. On clinical examination a systolic murmur or bruit may become distinguishable. 3. Renal diseases. Most renal diseases can cause high blood pressure. For example acute glomeruli-nephritis in children can result in significantly high elevation of blood pressure. This in many instances can cause seizures and coma. 4. Cushing’s Syndrome 5. Diabetes mellitus 6. Thyrotoxicosis 7. Conn’s syndrome. 8. Phaeochromocytoma. This is a tumor of the sympathetic nervous system which is Numbers 4 to 8 are all endocrine disorders. 9. Brain tumors. Brain tumors may cause symptoms such as chronic headaches, visual disturbances and short term memory impairment and confusion at times.

The risk factors for the development of essential hypertension are a :

1. strong family history 2. Sedentary lifestyle 3. Smoking 4. Chronic and severe emotional strain.

Because there are practically no symptoms of the disease it is highly recommended that adults get on an average 4 to 6 monthly check on their blood pressure to diagnose early, treat conditions and prevent the potentially life threatening complications of high blood pressure such as stokes, heart attacks, heart failures and renal failures.

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