Hypertension is "The Silent Killer"

Hypertension: Silent Killer

Could you have high blood pressure? Hypertension is known as "the silent killer" because it can cause injury or death when left untreated, even though you may be without symptoms. Many people - up to 20% - are unaware that they have high blood pressure until they develop some of the problems caused by years of inattention. Some of the diseases caused by hypertension include:

  • Kidney damage
  • Stroke
  • Angina
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Loss of vision
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Memory loss
  • Heart failure

High blood pressure damages blood vessels throughout your body by subjecting the arteries to force, resulting in small tears in the walls of the vessels, including those in the retina and kidney. When high blood pressure damages the arteries that supply your heart, it causes them to accumulate circulating cholesterols, fats, and platelets, forming plaques that narrow the arteries, reducing the flow of blood, which carries oxygen and necessary nutrients, to your heart. A heart attack occurs when a plaque ruptures and blocks blood flow completely. If this occurs in an artery that supplies your brain, it's called a stroke. Another disease that often results from hypertension is congestive heart failure, which occurs when the heart is forced to pump against a higher pressure, resulting in thickening of the heart muscle and eventual enlargement of the heart.

In fact, reduction of your blood pressure by 10 mm Hg can reduce your risk of stroke and cardiovascular death by as much as 25% to 50%. High blood pressure is a treatable problem and it's been widely studied, so if you haven't checked your blood pressure reading lately, it's time to do so. Don't wait for symptoms, because they only occur at the extremes of blood pressure.

Evidence shows that even blood pressure with small elevations above the recommended targets result in increased morbidity and mortality. The targets recommended by JNC 8, a national compendium of experts gathered to review all available scientific evidence, are below 140/90 mm Hg for the general population under the age of 60 and below 150/90 mm Hg for those individuals who are aged 60 and older.

In addition to medication, there are many lifestyle changes that you can make to help control your blood pressure. These include regular exercise, reduction of salt in your diet, tobacco cessation, moderation of alcohol use, stress management, and maintenance of a healthy weight. If your doctor recommends treatment with an antihypertensive medication, it's important to take it as directed.

Some groups within the population have a higher risk of hypertension, including African Americans. Women typically develop hypertension in greater numbers over the age of 65 compared to men. All people are at greater risk as they age. Diet can really contribute to hypertension when processed foods with loads of salt are a regular part of the diet. It's important to eat a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables.


America has an obesity epidemic. If you have a "body mass index"  (BMI) that is greater than 25, you are overweight. Your body mass index is determined by the relationship between your height and your weight. If your BMI is greater than 30, you are considered obese. Amazingly, over two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, which increases the risk of hypertension and other diseases, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, and high cholesterol. Sleep apnea, an independent risk factor for hypertension, is more prevalent in the obese.

The chemicals in a cigarette, including nicotine, constrict your arteries, which also results in high blood pressure.

Of course, smoking carries other risks, so it's essential to quit for your health. Excessive alcohol use contributes to hypertension, heart failure, and arrhythmias, which are irregular heart beats. Finally, stress causes your body to release chemicals that also raise your blood pressure,  in addition to increasing triglycerides, the risk of cancer and obesity, and the risk of mental health problems like depression.

If you haven't checked your blood pressure this year, check it tomorrow and follow up with your doctor to plan a healthier lifestyle that will extend your life and improve your health.

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