Understanding Hypertension

Hypertension is one of the most common health conditions I see in the office, and among the most important treatable diseases worldwide.  Of the things we do in medicine, treatment of hypertension has to be near the top of the list in years of life saved and morbidity avoided.  The consequences of untreated hypertension include stroke, kidney failure and coronary heart disease.  The effect on not just duration of life, but quality of life of these complications of uncontrolled hypertension is very high.  The CDC states that nearly 1 in 3 American adults have hypertension, and slightly less than half of them have their hypertension under control. Of people who have a heart attack 69% have hypertension, for stroke it’s 77% and for chronic heart failure it’s 74%.  Clearly hypertension is a major health problem in the U.S.

Despite these statistics many people have a poor understanding of hypertension, what the “top” and “bottom” numbers mean, and how high blood pressure affects our health.  I’m a big fan of the Kahn Academy. I love the simple and elegant method of teaching used in their videos, and also love that they find a way to break down topics into bite-sized morsels. I am hopeful that this collection of Kahn Academy videos about hypertension will help my patients and any others who watch them have a better understanding of hypertension, and maybe also motivate working with me or their health care provider to gain control of their blood pressure and reduce their risk of the many complications of uncontrolled hypertension. I think the time it takes to watch these video clips will be time well invested. Just click on each video in the order presented to take a short course on hypertension.

This first video discusses the definition of hypertension, and the various stages of hypertension.  They do not mention that systole is the time when the heart muscle is contracting, and diastole is the time when the heart muscle relaxes, so systolic BP is the higher pressure, or “top” number during systole, diastolic BP is the lower pressure, the “bottom” number during diastole, when the heart muscle is relaxing between heartbeats.


What is hypertension?: Learn the categories of hypertension for systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Rishi is a pediatric infectious disease physician and works at Khan Academy.


Hypertension symptoms and categories: Learn the most common symptoms (or lack thereof!) and the two major categories of hypertension. Rishi is a pediatric infectious disease physician and works at Khan Academy.


Hypertension effects on the blood vessels: Learn about how hypertension can cause damage to the large/middle sized arteries as well as the small arteries and arterioles. Rishi is a pediatric infectious disease physician and works at Khan Academy.


Hypertension effects on the heart: Learn 2 major heart problems that hypertension can cause. Rishi is a pediatric infectious disease physician and works at Khan Academy.


4 lifestyle changes to help manage hypertension: Remember that a good diet, exercise, losing weight, and quitting smoking can lower blood pressure! Rishi is a pediatric infectious disease physician and works at Khan Academy.

Hopefully you have found these informative. In the discussion of essential vs. secondary hypertension, the video implies that there is an indirect cause in essential hypertension like obesity, smoking, etc., but in some people hypertension develops without an apparent underlying cause. I suspect this is often a heridary factor, and sometimes stress or lifestyle factors that are not well understood. Please leave questions and comments below to take part in a discussion of hypertension with other readers.

One Response to Understanding Hypertension

  1. The different videos and the whole article gives a lots of insights on hypertension. Hypertension has lately been the major cause of many diseases in people all over the world. The modern lifestyle, food habits and the change in the climate are some major reasons causing hypertension globally. A study has recently revealed that people in the developed and developing countries, living in the urban areas are those who are more prone to get affected by hypertension.

Leave a reply