What Are the Causes of Essential Hypertension?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Essential hypertension, by medical definition, does not have a known or identifiable cause. However, factors in a patient's history may provide clues into the origins of the abnormally high blood pressure. Research into the causes of essential hypertension has provided important information doctors can use in patient treatment; even if a patient's specific case cannot be narrowed down, the general data on hypertension can offer guidance.

Family history can somestimes explain a patient's high blood pressure.
Family history can somestimes explain a patient's high blood pressure.

Many cases of hypertension fall into this category, also known as primary hypertension. Secondary cases, where the rise in blood pressure is associated with an underlying disease process, represent a separate category. If a diabetic patient develops hypertension, for example, it is likely secondary, with the diabetes as the cause. Understanding the origins of blood pressure changes can be important for care providers, who want to provide the most appropriate treatment.

Prolonged physical inactivity and excessive sodium consumption may contribute to essential hypertension.
Prolonged physical inactivity and excessive sodium consumption may contribute to essential hypertension.

Studies on the causes of essential hypertension show that genetics can play an important role. Some families have a history of high blood pressure, and experts believe there is a clear familial link with the condition. Environment may also play a role in the causes of essential hypertension, as people who are overweight and don't exercise can be more prone to this problem. The exact mechanisms through which diet and exercise influence blood pressure are not always easy to identify, and thus a case of hypertension isn't always attributable to the patient's habits.

In addition to sodium, people with essential hypertension should avoid foods that are high in cholesterol and fat.
In addition to sodium, people with essential hypertension should avoid foods that are high in cholesterol and fat.

Even without information about the causes of essential hypertension, a doctor can provide some treatment options. Making changes to diet and exercise habits can help. This can include cutting down on salts and fats and exercising to improve blood flow and protect cardiovascular health. These measures may not necessarily lower blood pressure in all patients, but can reduce the risk of complications associated with hypertension, like kidney damage and heart attacks.

Medications are also available for the management of essential hypertension. They can force the blood pressure lower through a variety of mechanisms to reduce the strain on the patient's cardiovascular system. These measures are usually recommended after more conservative treatments fail, and when it is apparent that the causes of essential hypertension cannot be identified or adequately controlled by other means. Taking medication can carry some risks, and it is important for patient to follow directions carefully to limit the chance of an adverse drug reaction or complication while in treatment for high blood pressure.

Medications can be taken to help a patient manage essential hypertension.
Medications can be taken to help a patient manage essential hypertension.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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