Secondary hypertension (secondary high blood pressure) is high blood pressure that's caused by another medical condition. Secondary hypertension differs from the usual type of high blood pressure (essential hypertension), which is often referred to simply as high blood pressure. Essential hypertension, also known as primary hypertension, has no clear cause and is thought to be linked to genetics, poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity.
Secondary hypertension can be caused by conditions that affect your kidneys, arteries, heart or endocrine system. Secondary hypertension can also occur during pregnancy.
Proper treatment of secondary hypertension can often control both the underlying condition and the high blood pressure, which reduces the risk of serious complications — including heart disease, kidney failure and stroke.
Like primary high blood pressure (hypertension), secondary hypertension usually has no specific signs or symptoms, even if your blood pressure has reached dangerously high levels.
Some people may experience headaches from secondary hypertension, but it's difficult to know if high blood pressure or something else is causing the headaches.
If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, having any of these signs may mean your condition is secondary hypertension:
When to see a doctor
A number of conditions can cause secondary hypertension. These include:
The greatest risk factor for having secondary hypertension is having a medical condition that can cause high blood pressure, such as kidney, artery, heart or endocrine system problems.
Secondary hypertension can worsen the underlying medical condition you have that's causing your high blood pressure. If you don't receive treatment, secondary hypertension can also be associated with other medical conditions, such as:
Preparing for your appointment
Your high blood pressure may be discovered during a routine physical. At that point, your primary care doctor may order more tests, or refer you to a doctor who specializes in treating whatever the suspected underlying cause of your high blood pressure may be. For example, if your doctor believes that a kidney problem is causing your high blood pressure, you'll likely be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating kidney disorders (nephrologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to arrive well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. For secondary hypertension, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose secondary hypertension, your doctor will first take a blood pressure reading using an inflatable cuff, just as your blood pressure is measured during a typical doctor's appointment. Your doctor may not diagnose you with secondary hypertension based on one higher than normal blood pressure reading — it may take three to six high blood pressure measurements at separate appointments to diagnose secondary hypertension.
Your doctor will also want to check other markers to pinpoint the cause of your high blood pressure. These could include:
Treatments and drugs
Often, an underlying medical condition requires treatment with medications or surgery. Once an underlying condition is effectively treated, secondary hypertension may decrease or even return to normal. Often, however, lifestyle changes — such as eating healthy foods, increasing physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight — can help keep your blood pressure low.
You may need to continue to take blood pressure medication as well, and any underlying medical condition you have may affect your doctor's choice of medication. Possible drug choices include:
Treatment can sometimes be complicated. You may need more than one medication combined with lifestyle changes to control your high blood pressure. And, your doctor will want to see you more frequently until your blood pressure is stabilized, possibly as frequently as once a month.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Although lowering secondary hypertension can be difficult, making the same lifestyle changes you would make if you had primary high blood pressure can help. These include:
Last Updated: 2011-03-22
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