Harvard Heart Letter

The hidden burden of high blood pressure

Average life span goes down; rehospitalization rates go up.

A silent condition like high blood pressure is sneaky. You don't feel it, and it generally doesn't cause any outward signs or symptoms. Yet it relentlessly causes problems in the arteries, heart, kidneys, and elsewhere.

High blood pressure — also known as hypertension — isn't a disease. It is a sign that something is wrong in the body. In some people with hypertension, the culprit is a narrowing of the arteries supplying the kidneys (renal artery stenosis), or an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or adrenal glands (aldosteronism). If these are treated, blood pressure drops back to normal. Most of the time, though, no immediate cause can be identified. Doctors call this essential hypertension.

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