JUN 21, 2021 5:58 AM PDT

Essential Hypertension: The Basics

WRITTEN BY: Alexandria Bass

Also known as primary hypertension, essential hypertension is high blood pressure without a specific, known cause. It is the most common type of hypertension and increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, renal disease, and eye damage. Its estimated prevalence is 45% of the adult population.

Blood pressure measures how forcefully blood pushes against artery walls when the heart contracts (systolic blood pressure) and relaxes (diastolic blood pressure). Blood pressure readings measure systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. High blood pressure is diagnosed when the average of 2 or more diastolic readings on at least 2 doctor visits within 4 weeks is equal to or greater than 90 mm Hg or when the average of multiple systolic readings on 2 or more visits within 4 weeks is equal to or greater than 140 mm Hg. For essential hypertension to be diagnosed, known causes of high blood pressure – renal disease, an adrenaline-secreting tumor (pheochromocytoma), and excess aldosterone production by the adrenal glands (aldosteronism) – should be ruled out.

Lifestyle factors that can contribute to high blood pressure are: being overweight, insulin resistance, high alcohol intake, high salt intake, inactivity, and low potassium or calcium intake. Several months of aerobic training combined with medication have proven to lower blood pressure more effectively than blood pressure medications alone, but exercise is not recommended as a substitute for blood pressure medications in patients with hypertension. Some cases of hypertension are genetic in origin, however, and less responsive to lifestyle changes.

Medications used to treat essential hypertension include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), and renin inhibitors. Beta- and calcium channel blockers lower blood pressure by reducing the force of heart and artery contractions by reducing the actions of adrenaline and calcium, respectively. Diuretics decrease the amount of pressure from fluid on the arterial walls by increasing the urinary excretion of sodium and water. ACE inhibitors, ARBs, and renin inhibitors widen blood vessels to lower blood pressure by lowering production of or blocking the effects of angiotensin II, a hormone that narrows blood vessel walls. Angiotensin II encourages fluid retention and stimulates the adrenal glands to release aldosterone.

Around 10% of patients with hypertension have resistant hypertension that doesn't respond to 3 or more antihypertensive medications at high doses.

Sources: Circulation, Hypertension, Mayo Clinic

About the Author
  • Alexandria (Alex) is a freelance science writer with a passion for educating the public on health issues. Her other professional experience includes working as a speech-language pathologist in health care, a research assistant in a food science laboratory, and an English teaching assistant in Spain. In her spare time, Alex enjoys cycling, lap swimming, jogging, and reading.
You May Also Like
DEC 27, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Weekend Flooding in Brazil Bursts Two Dams
DEC 27, 2021
Weekend Flooding in Brazil Bursts Two Dams
Floods this weekend caused destruction in Brazil. Two dams failed after weeks of rain in the Brazilian state of Bahia, o ...
DEC 29, 2021
Health & Medicine
To Drink or Not to Drink This Holiday Season: New Research on Alcohol and Heart Health
DEC 29, 2021
To Drink or Not to Drink This Holiday Season: New Research on Alcohol and Heart Health
Alcohol consumption has been linked to a reversible form of atrial fibrillation known as Holiday Heart Syndrome, where h ...
DEC 30, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Researchers Discover Immune Cell Subtype Linked to MS and Neuroinflammation
DEC 30, 2021
Researchers Discover Immune Cell Subtype Linked to MS and Neuroinflammation
We still don't know exactly what causes multiple sclerosis (MS), or many other disorders that involve inflammation in th ...
JAN 13, 2022
Microbiology
Dengue Virus Makes Mosquitoes Bite More Frequently
JAN 13, 2022
Dengue Virus Makes Mosquitoes Bite More Frequently
There are parasites that can change the behavior of their hosts to make a more beneficial outcome for the parasite. Rese ...
JAN 18, 2022
Clinical & Molecular DX
More Sun, Reduced Breast Cancer Risk
JAN 18, 2022
More Sun, Reduced Breast Cancer Risk
  Besides being a mood booster, spending time in the sun is known to have a number of health benefits. For example, ...
JAN 17, 2022
Cell & Molecular Biology
'Space Anemia' is Due to an Accelerated Loss of Red Blood Cells
JAN 17, 2022
'Space Anemia' is Due to an Accelerated Loss of Red Blood Cells
When astronauts go to space, many of them become anemic; they lose red blood cells. It's been suggested that space anemi ...
Loading Comments...