What to Expect After a Hypertension Diagnosis
If your blood pressure reading is elevated on consecutive doctor visits, you may receive a hypertension diagnosis. High blood pressure can be a condition all its own, or it can be a symptom of another underlying medical condition. To find out which scenario applies to your hypertension, your doctor might conduct further testing beyond simple blood pressure readings. Effective high blood pressure treatment depends on isolating the root cause of the condition.
After a definitive high blood pressure diagnosis, you and your doctor will discuss the health risks of high blood pressure and why treatment is necessary. You’ll also talk about your treatment options, which may include prescription drugs that lower blood pressure.
Two Types of Hypertension
If your heart must pump very forcefully to move blood through the circulatory system, then hypertension occurs. The two main types of high blood pressure are:
Primary hypertension: This form is usually caused by changes to the arteries due to such factors as aging, obesity, and chronic alcohol use. There are also genetic causes, as hypertension tends to run in families. Primary hypertension is also called ‘essential’ hypertension.
Secondary hypertension: This form is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as kidney disease, or by a medication.
For most people, diagnosing hypertension only requires taking blood pressure readings periodically. If your pressure exceeds 130/80 mm Hg on multiple occasions, then you likely have hypertension. Your doctor will diagnose primary hypertension if he or she believes aging, obesity, diet or some other lifestyle factor is the root cause of your high blood pressure.
If your medical history, lifestyle, and overall health status don’t support a diagnosis of primary hypertension, then your doctor may investigate other potential causes and ultimately diagnose you with secondary hypertension.
Diagnostic Tests for Hypertension
Beyond routine blood pressure readings, your doctor might order additional tests to pinpoint the cause of suspected secondary hypertension. These tests may include:
Blood tests (lab work) to check for diabetes or abnormal hormone levels
Imaging tests to look for cysts, tumors or structural abnormalities of the heart
Medication review to determine if a medication or supplement might be causing your blood pressure to rise
Sleep study to find out if sleep apnea is causing your hypertension
Urine tests to evaluate kidney function
Secondary hypertension treatment will focus on both the high blood pressure and the underlying cause. If, for example, hyperthyroidism (excess production of thyroid hormone) is the root cause of your hypertension, then your doctor will treat the thyroid problem to lower your blood pressure. If a medication or supplement is causing hypertension, then your doctor may change or discontinue those therapies.
Treatment for Primary Hypertension
Most people with high blood pressure receive a diagnosis of primary hypertension and begin treatment immediately with high blood pressure medicine. These drugs work in various ways to lower blood pressure, which reduces your risk of stroke, heart attack, and arterial damage.
Your doctor also may recommend lifestyle changes to manage your hypertension. These recommendations often include:
Eating a heart-healthy diet that includes fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains
Exercising regularly, which includes walking, jogging, playing recreational sports or any activity that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes
Limiting alcohol consumption
Maintaining a healthy weight
Reducing sodium (salt) consumption, including table salt, processed meats, fast food, salty snacks, and other items that contain large amounts of salt
Reducing your stress level
When combined with medication for hypertension, lifestyle changes can vastly reduce your risk of complications from uncontrolled high blood pressure.
If you begin hypertension treatment with medications, be sure to report any side effects to your doctor. Do not stop taking your medication abruptly, as this might cause your blood pressure to spike. Most people take high blood pressure medication without experiencing side effects, but if you develop a cough or some other unpleasant effect from the drug, then your doctor can change your medication or alter the dosage. There are many kinds of blood pressure medicines that act in different ways.
Although adopting lifestyle changes to manage your hypertension can be challenging at first, you will find it easier with practice. Some people can even control their blood pressure with lifestyle changes alone, with no more need to take medications. Work with your doctor to balance the need for lifestyle changes and medication to control your blood pressure.