Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, doesn’t have visible symptoms. In fact, many people who have prehypertension, or even full-on hypertension, are unaware of their condition until it’s detected during a medical exam. That’s why this life-threatening cardiovascular condition is called “the silent killer.”
Blood pressure 101
The force by which your blood courses through your arteries’ inner walls is your blood pressure. Certain things, like time of day or activity, can make your blood pressure go up or down.
For instance, as you’re falling asleep, your blood pressure may drop a bit. Upon waking and beginning your day, it starts to rise. Meditation can bring down your blood pressure, and going out for a run can make it go up. These fluctuations in your blood pressure are considered normal.
But when your blood pressure increases to a hypertensive level and remains there — even when you’re at rest — your blood vessels and your cardiovascular system at large sustain damage. Elevated pressure weakens, scars, or stiffens the arteries, making it difficult for the blood to move through. This can double your risk for heart attack, make you four times more likely to have a stroke, and increase your risk for many other chronic and life-threatening conditions.
Complications of hypertension
The complications that can occur as a result of uncontrolled or undetected high blood pressure are many, and hypertension can take a toll in ways other than heart attack and stroke. The health of all your organs depends on your blood flowing freely and easily through your arteries and vessels.
Your kidneys can suffer due to restricted blood flow, and you are at greater risk for suffering dementia. Because of compromised circulation, painful peripheral artery disease is another complication of hypertension. Uncontrolled high blood pressure affects your bone health and contributes to erectile dysfunction.
Risk factors of hypertension
Because hypertension has no obvious symptoms until the condition becomes extremely life-threatening, you need to know your risk factors. Most risk factors for hypertension are lifestyle-related, although genetics can play a significant role.
The common hypertension risk factors are:
- A diet high in sodium, saturated fat, and processed foods
- Alcohol abuse
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Family history
- Ethnic background (more African Americans suffer the effects of hypertension than other ethnicities)
- Emotional stress
Once your blood pressure reaches a crisis level (about 180/120), you may experience the following:
- Intense headache
- Blurred vision
- Tightness in the chest
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty catching your breath
Children can suffer from hypertension as well. If your child experiences any of the above symptoms or has a sudden loss of control of facial muscles, seek immediate medical attention.
Know your numbers
Controlling hypertension begins with knowing your numbers, and how your blood pressure compares to the guidelines set forth by the American Heart Association. The most accurate way to measure your blood pressure is by scheduling a visit to our office, Wasatch Peak Family Practice in Layton, Utah.
We assess your blood pressure numbers and risk factors and will help you guard against heart disease and the many other complications associated with hypertension.
Here are the blood pressure guidelines:
- Normal blood pressure — less than 120 hg (top number) over less than 80 hg (bottom number)
- Elevated — 120-129 hg over less than 80 hg
- Hypertension stage 1 — 130-139hg over 80-90 hg
- Hypertension stage 2 — 140 hg or higher over 90 hg or higher
- Hypertension crisis — 180 hg or higher over 120 hg or higher
If your blood pressure reaches the hypertension crisis level, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Changing your lifestyle doesn’t mean giving up all of your favorite foods or training for a marathon. Simply shedding 5-10% of your body weight and beginning a regular exercise regimen of walking for 30 minutes per day, five days a week can make a huge difference in your blood pressure numbers.
As you incorporate healthy habits into your daily life, you’ll begin feeling better, and your health will improve. If you smoke, quit now. For a wonderful example of a heart-healthy diet, check out the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension diet, or DASH diet, recommended by the American Heart Association.
Dr. Jeffery DeGrauw and the team at Wasatch Peak Family Practice can help you get control over your hypertension. We offer a thorough checkup, including measuring blood pressure, and we’ll work with you to begin taking steps that will help you avoid the complications of untreated hypertension. Contact Wasatch Peak Family Practice today. You have a lot of life ahead of you. Live it well.