Many of us have heard blood pressure being referred to as “the silent killer.” High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a dangerous condition that affects approximately 30% of Americans, causing up to 60,000 deaths per year according to The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. It is often called “the silent killer” because it typically has no symptoms until after it has done damage to the heart and arteries. Many of us may have high blood pressure and not even know it and therefore, do not understand the risks for heart attack, stroke, circulation problems, heart failure, kidney diseases, and eye disease to name a few are greatly increased.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the inside of the arteries as the heart pumps the blood through your body. Blood pressure readings are recorded with two numbers, with the top number (systolic pressure) relating to the force of blood when your heart beats, and the bottom number (diastolic pressure) relating to the force of blood against the artery walls when your heart rests. A normal blood pressure reading is one that is typically less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Prehypertension refers to blood pressure that is raised enough to be a warning sign for developing hypertension. These numbers will be anything above normal up to 139/89 mmHg. At this range, most of the damage can be maintained or possibly reversed. Hypertension is 140/90 mmHg and above. You will require treatment for this high blood pressure and most often the treatment will be medication and lifestyle changes. These numbers are a roundabout and the diagnosis of hypertension will be made by your physician based on other factors as well such as your age and other medical conditions.
The only way to truly know if you have high blood pressure is to have a physician test it. Typically three elevated readings will signify the need for medication. You may be asked to purchase a blood pressure cuff and machine for home use and keep a log of your readings throughout the day. However, if someone with very high blood pressure does not regularly see their physician and has not had their blood pressure checked or treated for years and suddenly notices their urine output is much less than normal, a lot of kidney damage may have already occurred and may not be reversible. This scenario and many more are why it’s important to have regularly scheduled visits with your physician before the silent killer can state its claim. It is recommended to have your blood pressure screened at least on yearly visits with your primary care doctor if you are 40 and above. If you are 18-39, it should be monitored every 1-5 years depending on whether you are high risk for developing high blood pressure or if you have symptoms such as a headache.
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, your physician may suggest some or all of the following:
Regular blood pressure monitoring. You may need to have your blood pressure tested periodically to make sure your treatment is keeping it in a healthy range.
Lifestyle changes. Exercise, weight loss, salt reduction, quitting smoking, and stress reduction can all help lower your blood pressure.
Medications. Your physician may prescribe medications such as diuretics, beta blockers, or other medication. These medications work in various ways to reduce the pressure of blood against artery walls and the workload of the heart.
While we are here to educate, we are not a substitute to your regularly scheduled physician appointment. Always make time to see your physician and ask any questions that you may have. We hope that if you haven’t seen your physician lately, that this post encourages you to do so.