What does it mean if I have high blood pressure (hypertension)?

What does it mean if I have high blood pressure (hypertension)?

What does it mean if I have high blood pressure (hypertension)?


High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, however many people with high blood pressure don’t have signs or symptoms and it can only be detected when a reading is conducted. A few people may exhibit symptoms such as shortness of breath, nosebleeds or possibly headaches, but these are not specific and usually only occur when the blood pressure has reached a life-threatening level. If you experience any of these symptoms, or a combination thereof, you should visit or call your doctor immediately if you know you suffer from high blood pressure.

Types of hypertension

There are two main types of hypertension. There is also prehypertension, which is basically a warning that you may be at risk for hypertension – view it as a warning sign.

Primary (essential) hypertension

This type of high blood pressure doesn’t have a known secondary cause and is believed to be linked to a poor diet, genetics and lack of physical activity. There are only treatments for this kind of hypertension, there is no cure.

Possible Causes and Risks

  • Genetic factors
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Stress
  • Being overweight – this increases your vascular resistance in having more fatty tissue which increases the amount of work the heart has to do in order to pump blood to your body.


Your doctor may recommend that you lose weight and follow a strict exercise and eating regime. That being said, the following can be done to help to lower your blood pressure:

  • Eat a healthy diet with a good amount of fibre and potassium, as well as drink plenty of water. It will also help to eat whole grains, fish and low-fat dairy as well as fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Try and limit your salt intake to 1,500mg per day.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to one unit per day.
  • Reduce your stress levels.

There is also medication available such as:

These should be taken under the advisement of your doctor.

Long-term effects

Your doctor may need to put you on a variety of medications in order to find the right mix that works for you to lower your blood pressure. You will also need to make conscious, healthy choices to improve your lifestyle as this could result in you not even needing medication in future.

You have a good chance of naturally combatting your blood pressure condition just through diet and lifestyle. However, this is not to say that you should not consult with your doctor, it is always best to get a professional opinion.

Secondary hypertension

This type of blood pressure has a direct cause. It is generally caused by other medical conditions that normally affect your heart, kidneys or endocrine system. It can also occur during pregnancy.

Secondary hypertension is also something that does not have any specific symptoms, but if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure by your doctor, it is important to know the following as these symptoms may mean you have secondary hypertension (please note that this is especially important for those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure at a young age):

  • Resistant hypertension is when you have high blood pressure that does not respond to any blood pressure medication.
  • Have a blood pressure reading of over 180/120.
  • Experience a sudden onset of high blood pressure after the age of 55 or before the age of 30.
  • No family history of high blood pressure – secondary hypertension is not linked to genetics.

Possible Causes and Risks

The biggest risk for having secondary hypertension is having a medical condition that causes the high blood pressure.

 There are several things that can cause secondary hypertension, these can include:

  • Diabetes can damage the filtering system of your kidneys.
  • Cushing syndrome is a condition where the medication may cause secondary hypertension.
  • Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited condition where cysts in your kidneys stop your kidneys from working properly and can raise your blood pressure.
  • Glomerular disease is where your kidneys filter waste and sodium by the use of tiny sized filters called glomeruli, if these do not work properly and become swollen, it might raise your blood pressure.
  • Renovascular hypertension is caused by the narrowing of one or both of your arteries leading down to your kidneys.
  • Aldosteronism is a condition where a tumour in the adrenal gland as well as an increased growth of the cells in the adrenal gland cause the glands to release a large amount of the hormone called aldosterone. This results in your kidneys retaining salt and water, and they will therefore lose a lot of potassium, spiking your blood pressure.
  • Thyroid disorders wherein the thyroid gland is overactive and this results in the thyroid producing too much of its hormones, which in turn, can cause the heart to beat faster than normal and ultimately raise the blood pressure.
  • Coarctation of the aorta is a defect you are born with where the body’s main artery, your aorta, is narrowed and forces the heart to pump at a higher pressure.
  • Hyperparathyroidism is a condition where the parathyroid glands which regulate your levels of calcium, if the glands secrete too much of the parathyroid hormone, your calcium levels will rise and this will trigger your blood pressure to rise. The exact mechanism of how it causes high blood pressure is still being debated, one thought is that it is through kidney damage as the kidneys play a vital role in controlling blood pressure.
  • Sleep Apnoea is often described as severe snoring, where your breathing will stop and start during your sleep, this causes you to lack in oxygen as you are not getting enough. This may result in damage to the lining of the blood vessel walls, stopping them from being effective in regulating your blood pressure.
  • Obesity is a large contributing factor to high blood pressure. The heavier you are, the more blood you have circulating in your body, putting more pressure on your artery walls which will increase your blood pressure.
  • Pregnancy may also cause high blood pressure.

There are many things that may cause your secondary hypertension, it is always best to consult with your doctor in order to treat any symptoms you may be experiencing. Medications and supplements such as painkillers, birth control pills as well as antidepressants may also cause secondary hypertension.

The most common cause of secondary hypertension is kidney disease, have a look at our article on this as well as the relevant articles to the above-mentioned diseases.

Possible complications

  • Arterial damage which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  • Increased blood pressure can cause the blood vessels to lose their strength, causing a bulge which could lead to an aneurysm.
  • Having trouble with your memory from the high blood pressure affecting your ability to think.
  • Metabolic syndrome is basically a condition where your body has a collection of metabolic disorders – disorders directly associated with your metabolism.
  • Weak and narrow blood vessels in your kidneys which prevents them from working properly.
  • Torn, narrowed, thickened or damaged blood vessels in your eyes which results in vision loss.

Other types of hypertension

There are various types of hypertension, read more about them in our articles on malignant and renal hypertension.

PREVIOUS What does it mean if I have low blood pressure (hypotension)?