Hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, can lead to a wide range of health problems. Unfortunately, this common condition is often asymptomatic and, unless diagnosed by routine screening, may cause end-organ damage before proper treatment is initiated.
Most individuals with high blood pressure have primary, essential hypertension, a familial condition that can be mild to severe. If untreated, it may lead to cardiovascular disease (including coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, stroke or peripheral vascular disease), kidney damage and visual impairment. Secondary hypertension is blood pressure elevation resulting from another clinical condition such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, certain tumors, steroid excess (endogenous or exogenous), obstructive sleep apnea or drug abuse (especially the use of stimulants such as cocaine).
Fortunately, most forms of hypertension are easily treated once recognized. Short of medication use, mild to moderate hypertension may resolve with weight loss, salt restriction, regular aerobic exercise, caffeine reduction, stress management and smoking cessation. Of course, secondary hypertension will not resolve until the underlying condition is properly treated. In the end, the most important step in the management of hypertension is its initial diagnosis; unless discovered early, this silent killer may produce irreversible (if not fatal) complications.