What You Don’t Know about High Blood Pressure Can Kill You

Published by: NJ Laborers on 01/07/2012

Excerpt from Lifelines Newsletter www.lhsfna.org

"If high blood pressure hurt," says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck, "fewer people would die from heart attacks and strokes."

That high blood pressure (HBP) or hypertension,can lead to these life-threatening events is no secret. However, this common condition – one out of every three U.S. adults has it – often has no symptoms. "Many people who have high blood pressure don’t know that they do," says Borck, "and even if they know, the fact that high blood pressure does not cause pain makes it easy to ignore."

One out of every six deaths in the U.S. is directly linked to untreated high blood pressure (HBP), also called hypertension.  In addition to heart attacks and strokes, HBP can lead to potentially fatal conditions like heart failure and kidney disease. It can also cause blindness.

HBP is a silent killer. A regular blood pressure check performed by a health care professional is the only way to determine if you have HBP.

What is Blood Pressure?

“Blood pressure” refers to the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body. Two numbers measure blood pressure: systolic – the amount of force when the heart pumps blood – and diastolic – the pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes between pumps. When blood pressure is consistently high – some fluctuation is normal due to physical activities or emotional state – artery walls can be damaged. Serious illness and death can result.

 Measuring Blood Pressure

sphygmomanometer, a gauge attached to a cuff made of rubber or fabric, measures blood pressure. A health care professional wraps the device around the upper arm, inflates the cuff to constrict the arteries and then releases it. For adults, systolic pressure below 120 and diastolic pressure below 80 is optimal. Systolic pressure readings between 120 and 139 or diastolic pressure readings of 80 to 89 indicate prehypertension, which requires monitoring. Systolic readings of 140 or higher and diastolic readings of 90 or higher signal HBP and need for treatment.

Though anyone can develop HBP, its prevalence is greater among African Americans than other American ethnic groups. The condition is more likely to occur in people who:

  • Have a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes
  • Are greater than age 55
  • Are overweight
  • Are not physically active
  • Drink excessively
  • Smoke
  • Eat foods high in saturated fats or salt
  • Use certain medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and decongestants
  • Use illicit drugs such as cocaine

Antihypertensive medication can control HBP. Changes in lifestyle can often reduce the amount of medication needed.

Reduce Your Risk for HBP

  • Lose weight. Obesity and HBP are closely related.
  • Exercise. Get your heart pumping fast for 20 minutes at a time, three times a week.
  • Stop smoking. Nicotine constricts blood vessels. This increases blood pressure and makes the heart pump harder.
  • Improve your diet. Salt and sodium increase fluid in the arteries so reduce your use. The DASH Eating Plan, which focuses on fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, can help.
  • Drink less alcohol. No more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women.
  • If you have HBP, take your medication as prescribed. Don’t stop when your prescription runs out or because you think your blood pressure is under control.
  • Ask your health care provider if you should monitor your blood pressure at home. This can be a good idea between office visits.

"The worst thing about high blood pressure is that you can walk around with it feeling fine as it causes irreparable damage," Borck says. "Regular blood pressure screenings can confirm that you really are as healthy as you feel or that you are in need of treatment that will make you healthy once again."