High Blood Pressure - The Heartbreaking Truth - Large

When your blood pumps with too much force against the walls of your arteries, you have high blood pressure (HBP), or hypertension. HBP is also known as “the silent killer,” and the truth is that for most adults, death from HBP can be prevented simply through vigilance and a healthy lifestyle.

But you need to know you have it if you want to fight back.

Silent and Deadly

HBP earned its nickname because there are almost no symptoms, explains Srikanth Sadhu, MD, of the Advanced Cardiovascular Institute. You may not be aware that it's damaging your arteries, heart and other organs.

That’s why it’s so important to check your blood pressure frequently. “High blood pressure affects different organs in different ways,” says Dr. Sadhu, which can lead to many serious medical issues, including:High Blood Pressure - The Heartbreaking Truth - In Content

  • Stroke
  • Kidney damage
  • Vision loss
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Memory loss
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Angina (heart pain)
  • Peripheral artery disease or PAD (plaque build-up in the arteries that carry blood to areas other than your heart, including your head, other organs and limbs)

Knowing Your Numbers

Your blood pressure reading comes with two numbers: systolic (the top number, which measures the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood), and diastolic (the bottom number, measuring the pressure when the heart is at rest). In general, “normal” blood pressure is 120/80 or lower.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

HBP is strikingly common. According to the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) has high blood pressure.

There are multiple causes of HBP, according to Dr. Sadhu, and the more you have, the greater your risk.

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These include:

  • Age
  • Heredity (including race)
  • Gender (men are at higher risk, until women hit menopause, and then women begin to outpace men)
  • Excess weight or obesity
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Too much alcohol
  • Unhealthy diet

Warding Off the Killer

Lifestyle changes are the most effective way to lower your blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that you:

  • Avoid tobacco smoke
  • Eat a healthy diet (especially limiting your salt intake)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage stress
  • Use hot tubs safely (extreme temperatures can affect blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about the risks.)

If your blood pressure is high (130/80 or more), your doctor will likely prescribe one or more medications (hypertensives) in addition to lifestyle changes. There are several categories of HBP medications, and each includes a number of different drugs.

If you have HBP and want to become pregnant, consult your doctor.

It’s important to take your medications as prescribed. Never stop taking them without your doctor’s input. Let your provider know about any over-the-counter medications and other prescriptions you may be taking.

Women and Blood Pressure Risks

Women face some unique risks when it comes to blood pressure.

Birth control pills increase blood pressure in some women. This is more likely to occur if you're overweight, have had high blood pressure during pregnancy, have a family history of HBP or have mild kidney disease, according to the American Heart Association. Combining birth control pills and cigarettes may be especially dangerous.

During pregnancy, HBP can be dangerous for both mother and baby. If you have HBP and want to become pregnant, consult your doctor.

Once diagnosed, the “silent killer” will stalk you for life. Treatment is rarely stopped. But if you make good lifestyle choices, stick with your medication plan and keep your blood pressure at a normal level, you should be on your way to a long and healthy life.