What Is Hypertension?

This 3D medical animation depicts the factors that determine blood pressure.

Hypertension is another way of saying high blood pressure. When your heart beats, it pumps blood out of your heart and into your blood vessels to nourish your body. Your blood pressure reading measures the force of your blood pushing against your artery walls when the heart contracts and rests. The systolic pressure (the top number) describes the pressure when your heart beats and the muscle contracts, and the diastolic pressure (bottom number) describes the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats, as the heart rests and fills with blood. You have hypertension when you have a systolic reading of 140 or above and a diastolic reading of 90 and above.

Complications of Hypertension

High blood pressure damages the artery walls, causing them to become thinned and stretched. Hypertension can cause a wide range of complications, including:

  • Vascular Weakness: When blood vessels are stretched too thin, they are more prone to rupture, causing strokes and aneurysms.
  • Blood Clots
  • Vascular Scarring: When the thin artery walls tear, car tissue can build up on the walls of the arteries and veins
  • Plaque Build Up: Plaque or cholesterol deposits can collect in the arteries where there is scar tissue. This can block blood flow, making your heart work harder. Plaque can also break off and block the flow altogether, leading to heart attacks and strokes.

What Causes Hypertension?

Hypertension usually develops slowly over time. If hypertension runs in your family, if you don't maintain a proper diet, are overweight, or are over 60, you are at greater risk for high blood pressure. Race also plays a role, as African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure. Some other risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Too much alcohol consumption.
  • A diet heavy in sodium
  • Not enough Vitamin D or potassium in your diet
  • Oral contraception use.
  • Stress
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea

There are usually no symptoms of high blood pressure. You should get your blood pressure checked regularly, and if you receive consistent high blood pressure readings, you should seek treatment. If you don't control your blood pressure, you could develop one or more of the following conditions:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Aneurysm
  • Metabolic syndrome

Treatment at Penn

Some people may be able to treat their hypertension with lifestyle and diet changes. Others may also require medication to help them get their blood pressure under control. Penn is a leader in the prevention and management of early heart disease. Penn Medicine's specialized cardiologists offer medical treatments not available at other centers. When you choose Penn, you choose to work with a dedicated team of cardiologists and heart disease experts who continue to lead the field, advancing the science of cardiac care.

Penn Programs & Services for Hypertension

Physician and patient discussing care
Primary Cardiology

Offers patients with cardiovascular disease the highest level of medical expertise

Scientist staring at vials
Preventive Cardiovascular

Specializing in the assessment and management of patients who at risk for heart disease

Comprehensive Hypertension Center (ASH-certified)

Penn Medicine's Comprehensive Hypertension Center (ASH-certified) provides diagnosis and treatment for hypertension and related disorders.

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