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Prevention and Treatment

Lifestyle changes can help lower the risk of developing hypertension. In many people with mild high blood pressure, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol and salt, and stopping smoking can decrease blood pressure levels to normal and may be the only "treatment" required. The risks associated with sex, race, and increasing age, however, do not disappear with lifestyle changes and, in many cases, a treatment plan that includes medications is necessary to control high blood pressure.

There are several classes of drugs available to treat hypertension; each works differently, targeting a specific aspect of blood pressure regulation. Frequently, a patient will need to take a couple of different medications together to achieve blood pressure control. Your doctor will work with you to select the appropriate combinations and dosages. (See How High Blood Pressure is Treated? on the NHLBI web site.)

With secondary hypertension, if the condition causing the high blood pressure can be resolved (by removing an adrenal tumor or stopping a medication) or controlled (by controlling diabetes and thyroid disease), then blood pressure levels may fall to normal or near normal levels. When a cure is not possible and control of the underlying condition consists of minimizing further damage, as may occur with kidney disease, then hypertension will be controlled with a combination of medications, and the person will be monitored closely to help maintain organ function and address acute problems as they arise.

Hypertension urgencies, an asymptomatic blood pressure of more than 180/110 mm Hg, and emergencies, or a severe form of high blood pressure seen with malignant hypertension in which blood pressure measurements can be higher than 210/120 mm Hg, must be treated immediately and may require hospitalization so that intravenous medications can be given and monitored.

Pregnant women with preeclampsia or toxemia require rest, close monitoring, and frequent visits to their doctor's office. The only real resolution for preeclampsia is delivery, but postponing delivery as long as possible allows the developing baby more time to mature. This time delay must be balanced against the increasing danger of seizures and organ damage in the mother, emergency conditions that can be lethal to both the baby and the mother.

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