This headache isn't the kind that you pop some over-the-counter meds and it goes away. If you're getting severe headaches with no prior history of migraines, high blood pressure may be to blame. Extremely high blood pressure, known as malignant hypertension, puts pressure in the cranium (the part of the skull that encloses the brain). As blood pressure rises, pain builds in the cranium. That causes severe headaches.
A nurse takes your blood pressure at your annual physical. The numbers are recorded and the checkup continues. But do you know where on the blood pressure chart your levels are? Are they healthy? Too low? Too high, meaning you have hypertension? If you have high blood pressure or are heading in that direction, you should know that hypertension is among the primary enlarged heart causes, and a major risk factor for heart failure.
Hypertension clinical guidelines from the American Heart Association are comprehensive guidelines for healthcare professionals for the detection and treatment of high blood pressure in a wide range of patients. Included in the 2018 hypertension clinical guidelines are proper methods for measuring blood pressure, risk factors for hypertension, and hypertension treatment for different populations.
When discussing blood pressure issues, the healthcare professional may ask questions about past medical history, family history, and medication use, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and food additives. Other questions may include lifestyle habits, including activity levels, smoking, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use.
Anyone can develop hypotension, but certain groups of people are more likely to experience it, and there are different types. For instance, orthostatic (positional) hypotension, which occurs when you stand up after sitting or lying down, is more common in older adults. Typically, “your body has certain compensatory mechanisms to prevent your blood pressure from falling when you stand up,” explains Willie Lawrence, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. But, he adds, “orthostatic hypotension is a problem for some people because these reflexes that should occur, don’t occur.”
If your blood pressure is elevated, your doctor may request you have more readings over the course of a few days or weeks. A hypertension diagnosis is rarely given after just one reading. Your doctor needs to see evidence of a sustained problem. That’s because your environment can contribute to increased blood pressure, such as the stress you may feel by being at the doctor’s office. Also, blood pressure levels change throughout the day.
Health care providers measure blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer (sfig-mo-muh-NAH-muh-ter), which has a cuff that's wrapped around the upper arm and pumped up to create pressure. When the cuff is inflated, it squeezes a large artery in the arm, stopping the blood flow for a moment. Blood pressure is measured as air is gradually let out of the cuff, which allows blood to flow through the artery again.
Diuretics can lead to an increase in potassium loss, known as hypokalemia, which, in turn can affect muscular function -- including the muscles of the heart. There is also an increased risk for gout with diuretics -- as well as the possibility of weakness, thirst, dehydration, and increased urination. Changes in blood sugar levels are also possible. Skin reactions, some severe, are possible with thiazide diuretics (such as hydrochlorothiazide). Potassium-sparing diuretics, such as spironolactone (Aldactone) may cause breast enlargement in males.
The fact that there are so many drugs to choose from means at least two things. First, it means there is no “best” drug for hypertension, that is, there is no drug that works well for almost everyone without causing unacceptable adverse effects. If there were, drug companies would have stopped their efforts to develop new antihypertensive drugs long ago—and the list of approved drugs would be much shorter.