Blood pressure refers to the pressure exerted on the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps blood around your body. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a serious condition that can strain your body in a number of different ways. If left untreated, it could potentially lead to coronary heart disease and increase the risk of heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. Fortunately, some minor lifestyle adjustments and medical treatments can help you manage and lower your blood pressure before it develops into a chronic medical condition.

The precise cause of hypertension is unknown, but health experts believe that a combination of factors contributes to its development. Smoking, over-consumption of alcohol, aging, stress, weight gain and genetics are all believed to play a role in causing high blood pressure. Individuals over the age of 35, African-Americans and pregnant women should remain extra vigilant, as they are most likely to develop hypertension.

Some individuals develop high blood pressure as a result of an underlying medical condition. This secondary hypertension generally develops quite suddenly and is more acute than normal hypertension.

Simple lifestyle changes can help curb rising blood pressure and prevent the development of hypertension. Overweight people are two to six times more likely to develop high blood pressure, so exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight is critical. According to the American Heart Society, shedding as little as 10 to 20 pounds can help significantly lower your blood pressure. Reducing stress and lowering your salt and alcohol intake can also help ward off hypertension.

Hypertension is virtually symptomless, making it difficult to detect and treat early on. Doctors recommend the best way to ensure that your blood pressure remains at a healthy level is to receive regular checkups, particularly if you are overweight. Occasionally, telltale signs will appear, such as nosebleeds, palpitations and headaches, though their level of intensity tends to vary greatly. However, it should be noted that these signs may not occur at all – even when your hypertension has reached a life-threatening stage.

Internally, however, the effects of hypertension can be much more severe. Hypertension may cause vascular weakness and scarring, increased risk of blood clots, tissue and organ damage, and cause severe strain to your heart.

Exercising regularly and keeping to a healthy diet and weight are the most effective methods of lowering your blood pressure. However, if these changes alone don’t produce sufficient change, you may wish to ask your doctor about appropriate medical treatments. Diuretics are the most commonly prescribed drugs for combating hypertension. If your blood pressure is at dangerously high levels, your doctor may consider placing you on a combination of two or more medications.