Hypertension Differs From High Blood Pressure

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. In this post we are distinguishing because in the next few posts we will be discussing the disease when the blood pressure is normal or “prehypertensive”.

Primary hypertension is a cellular disease in which the potassium and sodium, inside and outside the cells, are out of balance. 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 – being “hyper”.

There is some overlap between these diseases because coronary disease and vascular disease have some aspects in common with hypertension. You can have hypertension without coronary disease and 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

High blood pressure (1) is determined by your doctor when the numbers on the test he runs are too high. Almost everyone is familiar with the blood pressure cuff around the arm, and the inflation and slow deflation while the arm is listened to with a stethoscope.

The pressure registered by the cuff when the 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 the earliest stage. It does not produce any symptoms that the patient is aware of. As the pressure goes higher and higher it can begin to cause symptoms (something abnormal that the patient notices). By the time it causes symptoms that the patient is aware of, it is far advanced.

Previously, anything below 140 systolic was considered normal and anything below 90 diastolic was considered normal. After insurance companies noticed that people with diastolic pressures in the high 80s had more chance of stroke, heart attack and death, some new criteria began to evolve.


So although today above 140/90 is still considered hypertension, blood pressure readings between 120 and 140 systolic, and between 80 and 90 diastolic are considered prehypertension instead of normal. Below 120/80 is considered normal.

If above 140/90 is measured 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 here.
1. Medline Plus, High Blood Pressure, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/highbloodpressure.html