Hypertension is a cellular disease. It is not just high blood pressure. And it is not just because of the pressure pounding against the arteries that people get health problems – a common misconception. But before we discuss the more complex aspect of the cellular disease, let's discuss the difference between the disease hypertension and the finding of high blood pressure.
Hypertension is a disease, either primary (sometimes called essential) or secondary (caused by another disease). Approximately 95% of hypertension is primary. Only about 5% is caused by a separate disease. It is important that the doctor determines whether or not you are in the 5%. If you are, the underlying disease needs to be treated.
Most patients and doctors think of hypertension and high blood pressure as being the same thing. Because so many people think of them as the same thing, we do not usually distinguish between them on most of the posts on this website. But in this post we are distinguishing. And this is because in the next few posts we will be discussing the disease when the blood pressure is normal or “prehypertensive”.
Primary hypertension is the result of a cellular disease in which the potassium and sodium, inside and outside the cells, are out of balance for a prolonged period. Hypertension has effects that go beyond an elevated blood pressure. We will be discussing this in more detail in future posts.
Also, hypertension is not coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. And it is not a nervous tension – commonly referred to as being “hyper”.
These diseases have some overlap, because coronary disease and vascular disease have some aspects in common with hypertension. You can have hypertension without coronary disease. And you can have coronary disease without hypertension. But there is an association. Hypertension leads to an increased chance for coronary disease, stroke, and other vascular diseases.
High Blood Pressure
Your doctor determines that you have high blood pressure (1) when the numbers on the test he runs are too high. Almost everyone is familiar with the blood pressure cuff around the arm. And they remember the inflation and slow deflation while the doctor or nurse listens with a stethoscope.
The pressure registered by the cuff when blood first begins to run into the arm again is the systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure produced when the heart contracts. It gives the number that is “over” the other number.
The diastolic pressure is the pressure when the doctor no longer can hear the blood running in the vessel. This is the pressure in the artery when the heart relaxes between beats. It is the number that is “under” the other.
High blood pressure is a sign (something the doctor notices when he examines you) that something is not right. Most people are unaware that they have high blood pressure in its earliest stage. It does not produce any symptoms that the patient is aware of. As the pressure goes higher and higher, it begins to cause symptoms (something abnormal that the patient notices) that are hardly noticeable. By the time it causes symptoms that the patient is aware of, it is far advanced.
Previously, normal blood pressures was anything below 140 systolic and anything below 90 diastolic. After insurance companies noticed that people with diastolic pressures in the high 80s had more chance of stroke, heart attack and death, doctors developed new criteria for pressure below the cut-offs.
So today hypertension is still anything above 140/90. But blood pressure readings between 120 and 140 systolic, and between 80 and 90 diastolic, are no longer normal. They are prehypertension instead of normal. But below 120/80 remains a normal blood pressure.
If your pressure measures above 140/90 on a consistent basis, the doctor will usually prescribe medications. If the pressure is below those numbers, he usually will not. For the 95% of hypertensive patients that have primary hypertension, a high potassium foods diet will usually be helpful in reducing the blood pressure. It may lead to reducing or possibly eliminating the need for medication.
For those in the prehypertensive range, a high potassium foods diet may help stave off the need for blood pressure medication.
You can find links to tables of high potassium foods with the amount of potassium they contain by clicking the tab labeled “Links to Food Potassium Tables” at the top of the page.
1. Medline Plus, High Blood Pressure, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/highbloodpressure.html