A silent killer lurks. You won’t see it, hear it, or even feel it, but you need to be aware and watch out for it.
In 2018, high blood pressure (hypertension) was, directly and indirectly, responsible for the death of close to half a million Americans. Currently, just under half the adult population in the U.S. has been diagnosed with hypertension. Frighteningly, only 24% of them have their condition under control.
What is hypertension?
Blood pressure is measured in two ways. The first is your systolic pressure, which measures the force of your blood pushing through your blood vessels during each heartbeat. The other is diastolic pressure, which measures the force between heartbeats. A person with healthy blood pressure levels will typically have a reading of no more than 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic). Hypertension is generally categorized as having systolic blood pressure readings of above 130-140 or diastolic blood pressure readings of above 80-90.
There aren’t any symptoms of hypertension–thus its reputation as a silent killer. You might get headaches or experience some shortness of breath. Still, these are not exclusive to high blood pressure and are typically only in severe cases. Most people with hypertension only discover they have it when they get a check-up from their doctor.
Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
There are several causes or risk factors for hypertension. Some, unfortunately, cannot be changed. In contrast, others are within your control to lower the risk.
- Age: As you age, your blood pressure increases as your blood vessels narrow and stiffen, inhibiting the blood flow. According to one study, 90% of Americans will develop high blood pressure at some point during their lifetime.
- Family History of High Blood Pressure: While the data is not conclusive, family history plays a role in developing high blood pressure. This link may be genetic and caused by DNA changes in the womb. Alternatively, it could simply result from growing up in the same environment and sharing the same habits as the rest of your family, raising your chances of developing hypertension.
- Race and Ethnicity: Black people are more likely than white people to develop high blood pressure. It is also more common for them to be diagnosed with hypertension earlier in their lives.
- Gender: According to the American Heart Association (AHA), until the age of 64, men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure. From then on, it switches to a higher incidence of women being diagnosed with hypertension.
- Medical Conditions: Several medical conditions can be risk factors for high blood pressure, including diabetes. High blood pressure and diabetes typically go together. According to one study, approximately 30% of patients with type 1 diabetes and 50-80% of those with type 2 diabetes suffer from hypertension. The elevated pressure is usually caused by the higher levels of sugar or glucose in the blood associated with diabetes. Managing your blood glucose can help to manage your blood pressure too.
- Medications: Specific prescription and over-the-counter medicines can increase the risk. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen as well as decongestants and antidepressants can all raise your blood pressure. Similarly, hormonal birth control pills can increase the risk of hypertension.
- Diet: An unhealthy diet can also be a risk factor for hypertension. Eating foods that are too high in sodium and salt increases blood pressure. Conversely, a low level of potassium in your diet can also contribute to elevated blood pressure. Other triggers might be drinking too much coffee, other caffeine, or alcohol.
- Obesity and Lack of Physical Activity: Being overweight or obese or a lack of physical activity may also be playing into hypertension’s hand as is failing to get enough hours of sleep and rest. These all can force your heart to work harder to pump blood around the body, increase your blood pressure in doing so, and raise the risk of heart disease.
- High Cholesterol: Like diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension are typically found lurking around together. The AHA reports that over 50% of people with high blood pressure also have high cholesterol levels.
- Smoking: One of the most significant risk factors is smoking. The nicotine in cigarettes raises your blood pressure. Also, the carbon monoxide you are breathing in limits the amount of oxygen in your blood.
Hypertension has earned its reputation as a “silent killer.” Without any symptoms, it can creep up on you and cause a potentially fatal outcome before you even know you have it. However, we know its most common moves before it attacks. Making a note of the risk factors and taking steps to lower your chances of being targeted is crucial in fighting the condition. Taking regular blood pressure measurements at home or at the doctor’s office will help expose this assassin before it has a chance to strike.
Written by John Bankston
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