Hypertension: The Spy Among Us

Hypertension: The Spy Among Us

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If hypertension were a character in a spy novel, its name would be “the silent killer.” It would live quietly among us, moving unseen as it destroys us from within. If undetected for too long, it could even bring death.

A dangerous enemy, indeed. Yet, this foe isn’t fictional. Many people encounter it in their lives and fail to take action. Better known as high blood pressure, some of its nasty side effects can include:

  • Kidney damage
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Vision loss
  • Peripheral artery disease (clotting in the arteries)
  • Angina (chest pain caused by lack of oxygen-rich blood to the heart)

As a so-called symptomless disease – the silent killer, there really aren’t any telltale signs high blood pressure exists. Which makes it especially dangerous. If left untreated, it can cause problems for life.

Fortunately, you’re not helpless against its dangers. Taking some simple steps early can help keep its serious health effects at bay.

Mystery Solved
Many people have high blood pressure and don’t know it. A routine health exam will let you know if you do.

Your physician will measure both your systolic blood pressure (pressure on the artery walls when the heart beats) and your diastolic pressure (pressure on the artery walls when the heart relaxes between beats). The machine that measures blood pressure uses the term mm/HG because it measures in millimeters of mercury. The American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for healthy blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic (120/80).

A person may be at risk for serious problems if their blood pressure reading is higher than 140/90. Your doctor will suggest treatment if your health exam shows you have high blood pressure.

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

There are a number of things that can raise your risk of high blood pressure, including:

Preventing and Treating High Blood Pressure

If you don’t have high blood pressure, there are a few simple steps you can take to help ensure you never will. These same steps can also help individuals who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure lower theirs.

  • Stay a healthy weight. Losing as little as five to 10 pounds may help lower your blood pressure. Check your body mass index (BMI), which measures your weight in relation to your height and offers guidelines to help you understand healthy parameters for your weight.
  • Improve your diet. Start by cutting your salt intake and limiting sugar. Aim for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, beans, skinless poultry and lean meats and fish.
  • Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol. Smoking temporarily raises blood pressure. Drinking too much alcohol can also raise it. Limit the amount you drink. For women, that’s no more than one alcoholic drink per day. For men, it’s no more than two.
  • Be active. Even a little exercise, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes or longer five days a week helps. Staying active helps reduce high blood pressure, control weight and lower stress.

Take steps now to keep your blood under control. Talk with your doctor for more information about your risks for high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.

Sources: Health Threat from High Blood Pressure, leaving site icon American Heart Association, 2016; Understanding Blood Pressure Readings, leaving site icon American Heart Association, 2021.

Originally published 8/16/2016; Revised 2021