Don’t Ignore “The Silent Killer”

Know the facts and how to manage high blood pressure, heart disease and their related conditions.

High blood pressure, or Hypertension, is often called “The Silent Killer” because its symptoms are not obvious. In general, people are not aware they have high blood pressure until they visit a doctor. For people who do experience its non-specific symptoms, such as a headache or shortness of breath, these most often occur when their blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.

It is extremely important to work with your doctor to control high blood pressure. If it is uncontrolled, the blood’s high pressure against artery walls can damage the arteries and cause serious health problems, such as a heart attack and stroke.

What are the consequences of uncontrolled high blood pressure?

  • Cardiovascular disease

High blood pressure damages the artery, causing Atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries. This can lead to a heart attack, stroke and Peripheral Artery Disease.

  • Heart failure

Because of the high pressure in the arteries, the heart must pump harder. This causes the heart to enlarge. An enlarged heart does not function properly, eventually resulting in heart failure.

  • Kidney disease or failure

High blood pressure can weaken and narrow the arteries in the kidneys, affecting their ability to filter the blood.

  • Vision loss

Blood vessels in the eyes can become thick, narrow or torn, causing vision loss.

  • Sexual dysfunction

Erectile Dysfunction in men or low libido in women can happen with high blood pressure.

  • Vascular dementia (impaired memory and judgement)

Narrowed or blocked arteries limit blood flow to the brain leading to a type of dementia called Vascular Dementia.

What is hypertensive crisis?

Hypertensive crisis is a condition in which blood pressure is equal to or higher than 180/120 mm Hg. It is an emergency condition that requires urgent medical care. The consequences of such high pressure can be severe and lead to a stroke, heart attack, fluid buildup in the lungs, and damage to the eyes and kidneys. If your blood pressure reading is equal to or higher than 180/120 mm Hg, recheck it after 5 minutes. If the blood pressure is still high, call your doctor immediately. Call 911 or your local emergency medical number if along with this high number, you also experience shortness of breath, chest pain, vision problems, numbness or weakness, or any other signs and symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke.

What are ways to lower the high blood pressure? 

  • Know your numbers

Monitor your blood pressure regularly and keep a log to track patterns. This can help you modify your lifestyle factors to improve your blood pressure.

Blood pressure category Systolic blood pressure (Upper number)  Diastolic blood pressure (Lower number) 
Normal Less than 120 AND Less than 80 
Elevated 120-129 AND Less than 80 
Stage 1 Hypertension 130-139 OR 80-89 
Stage 2 hypertension More than or equal to 140 OR More than or equal to 90 
Hypertensive crisis Higher than 180 AND/OR Higher than 120 
  • Eat a healthy diet and reduce salt

DASH diet is an evidence-based diet which gets its name from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension study. It is a beneficial diet plan to follow to lower high blood pressure. Plan to eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains. Also, eat low-fat dairy products and skinless poultry and fish. Limit your consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.

Sodium, the main ingredient in salt, causes high blood pressure. It shows up as salt and in prepared, processed and packages foods as baking soda, a preservative. Be sure to read all food labels and select foods with less or no preservatives. If you have high blood pressure, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting salt intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day (about a teaspoon).

Over-the-counter decongestants (Oxymetazoline, Phenylephrine and Pseudoephedrine) also contain sodium.

  • Get physically active

Hence to support that dynamic aerobic exercise prevents and controls hypertension. Examples of dynamic aerobic exercises include brisk walking, jogging, dancing, bicycling, swimming and use of certain exercise equipment, such as elliptical machines. For overall health benefits, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends most healthy adults to get a minimum of 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity physical activity.

If you have been inactive, increase physical activity gradually. Consult with your doctor regarding your type of exercise if you have another condition besides high blood pressure. Whether indoors or outdoors, find something that you enjoy and get active!

  • Maintain a healthy weight

Losing weight has proven to lower your blood pressure, in addition to many other health benefits. Maintain a healthy weight by eating well and moving your body frequently.

  • Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation

If you do drink alcohol, it is recommended you limit consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and no more than 1 drink per day for women. Alcohol in excess of these amounts can raise your blood pressure.

  • Quit smoking

There is a temporary increase in blood pressure every time you smoke. Smoking and high blood pressure are contributors to plaque buildup in arteries, increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke.

  • Manage stress

While a direct link between high blood pressure and stress is unclear and still being studied, poor diet and alcohol consumption along with stress can indirectly increase blood pressure.

Know your stress triggers and aim to avoid them. Relax, spend time with loved ones, give yourself down time, use positive self-talk, feel gratitude, and focus on living with joy to reduce your stress.

  • Take your medications regularly as prescribed by your doctor

Partner with your doctor. Be sure to adhere to all prescriptions and directions from your doctor, and go to all scheduled doctor appointments.

The bottom line

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause numerous health problems, some quite severe. Whether you have it or not, commit to making significant changes in your lifestyle to reduce or prevent risks. Because high blood pressure often does not appear with symptoms, it is important to check your blood pressure during every doctor’s visit. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, know your numbers by checking them often, adopt a healthy lifestyle, and take medications as prescribed by your doctor.

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