Undiagnosed High Blood Pressure a Serious Health Issue

Individuals can be living with hypertension without knowing it

CINCINNATI, Ohio (May 11, 2015) – Those who think they don’t have high blood pressure because they haven’t experienced any symptoms could have a dangerous misconception.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 80 million Americans have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Blood pressure measures the force against the walls of one’s arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body. When the pressure is too high, it can be harmful to the arteries by weakening them and adversely affecting many of the body’s internal organs.

High blood pressure is a disease that usually comes with no symptoms, which is why leading organizations such as AHA call it the silent killer. Most individuals discover they have high blood pressure when they go to a doctor’s appointment and have it read. However, people can walk around for a significant amount of time before it is caught if that periodic checkup never takes place, the AHA said.

“I tell my patients that there are no real symptoms of high blood pressure but rather only the serious signs that come after the disease has not been caught and treated,” said Marcus Washington, MD, a primary care physician with Premier Health Family Medicine in Mason. “So people can be walking around with high blood pressure and not even know it. When this happens for an extended period of time it causes what we call target organ damage. The high blood pressure affects the brain, the kidneys and heart.”

Dr. Washington said individuals can play an active role in their health by monitoring their blood pressure between doctor’s appointments and learning if they are at a higher risk for developing the disease. Risk factors include advanced age, a family history of the disease, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, poor diet, tobacco use and even stress and sleep apnea, the AHA said. 

Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers. The top number reads the systolic blood pressure and the bottom number reads the diastolic blood pressure: for example, 120 over 80 or 120/80 mmHg. According to the National Institutes of Health, normal blood pressure is when a reading is under 120/80 mmHg most of the time. High blood pressure is when it is over 140/90 mmHg most of the time. If one’s blood pressure is under 140/90 but over 120/80 most of the time then it is considered pre-hypertension. 

Individuals should consult with their physician on the best target reading for them since guidelines can vary according to age and ethnicity, said Srikanth Sadhu, MD, a cardiologist with the Advanced Cardiovascular Institute in Middletown.

High blood pressure is best diagnosed through a series of readings over a period of time, Dr. Sadhu said. A blood pressure reading is a snapshot in time so if a person is emotionally or physically stressed at a particular moment it can alter the true picture of a person’s normal blood pressure. For this reason, many patients can experience what is known as “white-coat hypertension,” he said.

“The stress of coming into a physician’s office and being told something about your health that is upsetting can significantly increase a person’s adrenaline, which can make a person’s blood pressure go up,” Dr. Sadhu said. “That’s one reason we don’t start treatment for high blood pressure off of one reading. We prefer to have multiple readings over a period of two to three months. We also may encourage patients to take their blood pressure at home where they are most relaxed and to keep a diary of their readings.”

Dr. Washington said high blood pressure is either secondary or essential. Secondary high blood pressure is when a person’s blood pressure is elevated as a result of a health issue – such as kidney disease or the presence of a tumor – or lifestyle habit – such as illegal drug use. Secondary high blood pressure can be cured if the primary source can be eliminated. The predominant form of high blood pressure in America is essential, which means there is no known cause.

Still, individuals can reduce their risk for essential hypertension or even help lower it by taking important steps. These include eating a healthy diet with limited sodium intake, exercising regularly, reducing stress, limiting alcohol consumption, eliminating tobacco use and complying with medication prescribed by a doctor.

For more information on high blood pressure or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.

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