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Underlying Causes of Hypertension

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Hypertension is the most common diagnosis in family medical practices precipitating over 11 million visits to doctor’s offices every year.  Nearly 1 out of 3 adults in the U.S. is diagnosed with it.  It is the single most important risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, peripheral artery disease, congestive heart failure and heart attack.  Hypertension accelerates the development of atherosclerosis, and it can directly affect the eyes, brain, heart, lungs and kidneys.  Treatment of hypertension can save lives and prevent organ damage.

In order to be diagnosed with hypertension, you must have 2-3 readings of blood pressure where the systolic blood pressure (the high number) is greater than 140 mmHg or the diastolic pressure (the low number) is greater than 90 mmHg.  One very high reading of over 160 mmHg systolic or over 100 mmHg diastolic is also sufficient for a hypertension diagnosis.

Hypertension is always a sign of an underlying problem.  Blood pressure does not elevate on its own so the treatment of it should not just focus on lowering the pressure but treating the underlying cause.  There are numerous things that can cause the blood pressure to be elevated.  These things can include everything from drug use to other diseases.

There are a large number of drugs that can cause hypertension.  Cocaine use is widely known to elevate blood pressure.  Consumption of alcohol in large quantities can also raise your blood pressure and make hypertension difficult to treat.  Tobacco usage can also lead to elevated blood pressure.  Many pharmaceutical drugs can cause hypertension.  You may want to review the side effects of drugs that you are taking to see if they may be contributing to your problem and discuss it with your medical doctor.  Drugs that are commonly used that are known to elevate blood pressure include:  amphetamines, buspirone, carbamazapine, clozapine, lithium, tricyclic antidepressants, prednisone, and certain decongestants.  Estrogens and oral contraceptions promote sodium and water retention which can increase blood volume and lead to high blood pressure.  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs cause constriction of the artery leading to the kidney which leads to varying degrees of hypertension.  Over-consumption of licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) as an herbal medication can also cause a rise in blood pressure.

Various diseases can cause hypertension.  Although we’re not going to cover them in this blog post, if you have these diseases, they are likely the cause of your blood pressure problems.  These diseases include:  Cushing’s disease, Pheochromocytoma, Conn’s Syndrome, Renal disease, and Thyroid disease (both hyper and hypo).  Many people don’t know that insulin resistance can also lead to high blood pressure.  Insulin promotes renal retention of sodium which leads to water retention and increased blood volume causing high blood pressure.

Vitamin D deficiency can also cause hypertension.  Researchers from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health discovered that vitamin D deficiency can increase a woman’s risk for high blood pressure three-fold.  They found that women with sufficient levels of vitamin D were rarely hypertensive, but more than 10 percent of the women with low levels of vitamin D were.

Dysfunction in the upper cervical spine can also lead to blood pressure problems.  A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension in 2007 showed that correction of dysfunction in the upper cervical spine by chiropractic spinal manipulation causes “marked and sustained reductions in blood pressure similar to the use of two-drug combination therapy.”  (Bakris G, Dickholtz M Sr, Meyer PM, Kravitz G, Avery E, Miller M, Brown J, Woodfield C, Bell B. Atlas vertebra realignment and achievement of arterial pressure goal in hypertensive patients: a pilot study. J Hum Hypertens. 2007 May;21(5):347-52)

These are just a few of the things you need to consider discussing with your doctor if you have hypertension.  You also need to look at your weight and nutrition to see if there’s anything in your diet that could be elevating your blood pressure.  Ultimately, it may be a combination of things that need to be addressed.  In our next blog post we will cover natural treatments you can also consider.

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