Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan and Physician Brandon Yew on June 2, 2022

What Is Secondary Hypertension And How Do You Treat It?

Unlike primary hypertension, secondary hypertension occurs due to another health condition. Learn how you can use TCM to help control your symptoms here.

Secondary hypertension min scaled

Secondary hypertension only affects a small group of people. Because of this, it’s not as well known as primary hypertension. To become diagnosed with the condition, your doctor will test to see if you meet certain criteria.

From there, he or she will recommend a treatment program that works to correct your symptoms. These can include both pharmaceutical medication as well as natural remedies.

In this article, our experts explain what secondary hypertension is and how to treat it using both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

What Is Secondary Hypertension?

Secondary hypertension occurs due to another medical condition, such as pregnancy.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, occurs when you have higher than normal amounts of pressure in your blood vessels. This makes it harder for your heart to pump blood and oxygen throughout the body.

Secondary hypertension refers to hypertension that is caused by another condition. For example, it may occur during pregnancy or if you have been diagnosed with preeclampsia, a condition that affects your kidneys, arteries, heart, or endocrine system.

In other words, secondary hypertension does not just happen on its own. It must develop as the result of an underlying health condition.

Common conditions that are associated with secondary hypertension include adrenal disease, kidney disease, thyroid problems, and obstructive sleep apnea.

Who Is At Risk?

A clinical diagnosis for the condition can only be provided after a person undergoes several screenings. These are typically costly and time-consuming. Hence, a physician will only order a screening if a person meets one of these criteria: 

  • Excessive weight or obesity alongside hypertension as a comorbidity 
  • Abnormally low potassium or high calcium levels in the body 
  • Hypertension that doesn’t improve, even after using three types of medications 
  • Being under the age of 30 and diagnosed with hypertension but with no family history of the condition 

A physician may also consider running tests if a person presents with the symptoms of an underlying condition.

Adrenal disease

The adrenal glands are responsible for producing and regulating hormones. Problems affecting these glands can disrupt hormonal balance and provoke primary hyperaldosteronism — an increasingly prevalent trigger of secondary hypertension.

Primary hyperaldosteronism refers to excess aldosterone production — a steroid hormone that influences blood pressure by regulating salt and water in the body.

Renal disorders

Primary hypertension can give rise to renal failure in elderly people. Subsequently, it can lead to an onset of secondary hypertension. This is evident from an elevation of serum creatinine — a waste product made by muscles — or proteinuria on a urinalysis. 

Renal parenchymal disease — a group of medical conditions that damages parts of the kidney — frequently gives rise to hypertension in pre-adolescent children. Examples of these are: 

  • Glomerulonephritis — an inflammation of kidney glomeruli 
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Congenital abnormalities 
  • Reflux neuropathy — a backward flow of urine into the kidney  

Obstructive sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is another predominant aggravator of secondary hypertension. Men who snore, are obese, or are between 40 to 59 years of age are especially vulnerable to this disorder.

It is worth noting that people with sleep apnea will retain sodium. Therefore, their bodies will not respond to hypertensive medications. This may impair their normal circadian rhythm in blood pressure.

Certain medications

People who use different types of medications may also experience side effects that make them prone to hypertension. These include:  

  • Antidepressants 
  • Drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Appetite suppressants
  • Decongestants 
  • Stimulants 
  • Diet pills 
  • Birth control pills 
  • Immune system suppressants 
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)  

Body composition imbalances

TCM believes that secondary hypertension stems from internal irregularities, such as Phlegm Dampness, Blood Stasis, Liver Yang (active energy) Ascendant Hyperactivity, and Liver-Kidney Yin (passive energy) Deficiency. 

Secondary Hypertension Treatment Options

Taking steps to prevent secondary hypertension is a priority. It relates to a person being aware of their physical health and the potential side effects of using medications.

Therefore, people should maintain an active lifestyle and consume a balanced diet. They should also speak to a physician regarding the safety of specific medications — before and after use.

Consume foods that lower blood pressure

Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables may help lower blood pressure.

Physicians recommend that people with secondary hypertension must reduce their sodium intake. In addition, they may also choose to consume foods that can help lower blood pressure levels.

“Celery, fungus, kelp, lettuce, spinach, corn silk, mung beans, and lotus seeds are effective anti-hypertensive foods,” explains TCM Physician Kong Teck Chuan.

He adds, “Chrysanthemum (Ju Hua), hawthorn (Shan Zha), mulberries (Sang Ren), and wolfberries (Gou Qi) can also help correct the different syndromes.

Consume herbal formulas

Herbal formulas or ingredients can alleviate hypertension by reinforcing deficiencies, calming the Liver, and removing Blood Stasis.

A Tian Ma Gou Teng decoction and Zhen Gan Xi Feng decoction are frequently used to remedy these problems. Ingredients like Achyranthes (Niu Xi), Poria (Fu Ling) and Uncaria rhynchophylla (Diao Gou Teng) can also be used to achieve similar effects. 

Research shows that Lingzhi (also known as Reishi mushroom) may help improve cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure. It may also have therapeutic effects on Kidney and renal diseases. This may help prevent secondary hypertension from occurring in the first place.

Acupressure

Traditional treatment modalities like acupuncture can bring down blood pressure levels through various pathways. Stimulation of the Jian Shi (P5) and Nei Guan (PC6) can support the inhibitory effects of electroacupuncture on cardiovascular responses. It does this by activating the thinly myelinated and unmyelinated fibers in the median nerve.

The use of acupuncture on points like Shen Men (HT7) and Si Shen Chong (EX-HN1) can also slow the Heart and energize the vagal nerves. These nerves belong to the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls heart rate, and digestive and immune system functions. 

Secondary hypertension can be properly managed with clinical treatment and lifestyle or dietary changes. It is also viable to enhance blood pressure control by using herbal formulas or ingredients. Do speak to a TCM practitioner beforehand to avoid potential contraindications.

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