Hypertension—also called high blood pressure—is an extreme threat to health. Yet this dangerous ailment often has no obvious symptoms. As a result, many of the 50 million Americans who have hypertension are unaware of their condition.
That’s why it’s called a Silent Killer.
The danger of hypertension comes from the fact that the higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart has to work and the heavier the load your arteries must bear. Over time, such heavy loads damage your heart and arteries. This can result in coronary artery disease (the leading cause of death in North America) and stroke (the third leading cause of death). As if that isn’t bad enough, hypertension can also cause major damage to other parts of the body. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for kidney disease, peripheral artery disease, cognitive impairment including dementia, and eye damage.
Hypertension is an equal-opportunity threat. Both women and men are susceptible to the disease and the damage it causes. In fact, women above 65 actually have a greater risk of hypertension than men. And a recent study reported in Medical News Today suggests that high blood pressure may be a greater threat for vascular disease in women than in men.
Risk factors for hypertension include:
- Too much alcohol
- Inactive lifestyle
- Too much salt
- Family history of hypertension
Fortunately, hypertension can be treated effectively in the majority of people. The first step to dealing with hypertension is to learn if you have it by taking your blood pressure periodically. If you find it too high, then it’s imperative to work with your doctor to lower it.
Blood pressure readings consist of two numbers expressed in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The top number is the systolic pressure, which is the pressure on artery walls when the heart beats. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which is the pressure on artery walls between heartbeats. The National High Blood Pressure Education Program classifies blood pressure for people 18 years or older as follows:
- Normal: Systolic less than 120, diastolic less than 80
- Prehypertension: Systolic 120-139, diastolic 80-89
- Hypertension Stage 1: Systolic 140-159, diastolic 90-99
- Hypertension Stage 2: Systolic 160 or more, diastolic 100 or more
The higher your blood pressure readings, the more you’re at risk for the damage hypertension causes. Even readings in the prehypertension range are a warning to start working to lower blood pressure by developing a healthy lifestyle:
- Lose weight if overweight
- No smoking
- Limit alcohol to two drinks a day for men; one drink a day for women
- Eat healthy, including more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, with less saturated and total fat
- Reduce dietary sodium/salt: Less than 2,300 milligrams per day for healthy adults, and less than 1,500 milligrams per day for someone with hypertension.
- Do at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise several days a week
While these are good general guidelines, it’s important to seek your doctor’s advice on dealing with hypertension if you have it. Work with him or her to develop a plan that works for you.
Until next time, please be well,