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High Blood Pressure Or Hypertension Blood pressure is the force that is exerted by the blood against the vessel walls. It is measured by using a simple instrument called a sphygmomanometer, which consists of an inflatable cuff that goes around the upper arm and a column of mercury or a pressure dial. When the cuff is inflated, it tightens around the arm and momentarily blocks the flow of blood through the main artery of the arm. As the cuff is slowly released, the person taking the blood pressure uses a stethoscope to listen to the returning blood flow. One sound signals the maximum force that occurs with the heartbeat. This is the systolic pressure, the higher of the two numbers in a blood pressure reading. The second or lower number, referred to as the diastolic pressure, reflects the lowest amount of pressure, which occurs between heartbeats. Everyone's blood pressure varies during the course of a day. As would be expected, it is usually lower when resting or engaged in quiet activities, and it may spurt up during a sudden burst of activity, such as running to catch a bus or exercising. Age also affects blood pressure; it is geerally lower in children and gradually rises as we grow older. Although there is some disagreement over how high is to high, the average normal blood pressure for healthy children is about 90/60, while the normal adult average ranges from 100/85 to 135/90. A diastolic pressure over 95 in an otherwise healthy adult is regarded as suspiciously high and a reading of 140/100 usually would be diagnosed as hypertension that should be treated. Many experts feel that any diastolic pressure that is consistently over 95 should be treated. It is estimated that more than 35 million Americans have hypertension. In the large majority of cases, the cause of the high pressure is unknown. Doctors refer to this most common form of the disease as primary or essential hypertension. There are some unusual instances, however, in which the high blood pressure may be caused by kidney disease, tumor or some other identifiable cause. This is known as secondary hypertension, and treating the underlying cause usually will cure the high blood pressure. While the cause of primary hypertension is unknown, a number of factors appear to increase the risk of developing it. These include a family history of high blood pressure or strokes at an early age, cigarette smoking, obesity and excessive salt intake. Altering or avoiding these risk factors will not necessarily prevent hypertension, but all are thought to play some role. Cutting salt intake, stopping smoking or losing weight may be sufficient to prevent borderline high blood pressure from developing into frank hypertension. This is particularly true for adolescents or young adults whose blood pressures may be in the higher end of the normal range. Over the last few years, dozens of highly effective antihypertensive drugs have been developed that have truly revolutionized the treatment of this disease. At one time, the only treatments available for high blood pressure were surgery, which was not very effective, or an extreme restriction of salt intake, which in some cases meant living on a diet of mostly fruit and rice. Now most cases of hypertension can be brought under control with drugs, which may be prescribed singly or in combination. There are three major categories of antihypertensive drugs: Diuretics, "water pills," which rid the body of excessive salt and reduce the volume of blood that must be pumped through narrow blood vessels, relieving some of the pressure on them. Beta blockers and other agents, which act on the nervous system to stem the outflow of impulses from the brain that cause blood vessels to constrict or work elsewhere to block their effect. Vasodilators, which act directly on the muscles in the blood vessel walls, allowing them to relax and expand, or "dilate." In addition, anew class of drugs, known as reninaxis blockers, has recently become available that interferes with the formation of a powerful vessel-constricting substance in the body and also with the action of the hormone aldosterone, which causes the body to retain salt and water. Since there are many antihypertensive drugs and combinations, an effective treatment that lowers blood pressure with a minimum of unpleasant side effects almost always can be found. There, if you experience a side effect such as unusual tiredness, dizziness or faintness upon standing, depression or any other untoward symptom that you think may be related to your antihypertensive drugs, report it to your doctor. It may be only temporary, or it may be something that can be remedied by altering the regimen. In any case, remember that the treatment is usually for life. The drugs will keep the high blood pressure under control, but they do not cure the disease. If you stop taking the drugs, the blood pressure will return to its previous level or go even higher. Therefore, it is particularly important that you follow your doctor's instructions and that you return for periodic checks.