Why is High Blood Pressure Called the Silent Killer?

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is often described as a silent killer because it has no obvious symptoms. Patients usually have no idea they have high blood pressure. Hypertension slowly works in the background, damaging your arteries in silence! This condition is considered one of the major public health challenges of the modern era and is linked with serious health issues such as heart attack, heart failure, and stroke1.

The question is, how can we diagnose high blood pressure and protect ourselves from this silent killer? This article will give you some insights.

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure may be defined as the pressure of circulating blood against the wall of the arteries. This pressure occurs due to the blood pumping action of the heart. High blood pressure occurs when the circulating blood gives pressure over the arterial wall at a higher level than normal.

Blood pressure is measured with two readings - systolic and diastolic pressure. Among these two, systolic pressure is higher and the diastolic is lower. Systolic pressure measures the pressure of blood in your arteries when your heart beats, while diastolic pressure measures the forces of blood in the arteries when your heart gets relaxed. The normal systolic blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg and the normal diastolic blood pressure is less than 80 mm Hg.

According to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, high blood pressure occurs when the systolic blood pressure reaches up to 130 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure touches the line of 80 mm Hg or higher. This is known as Stage 1 hypertension. Stage 2 hypertension is called when the blood pressure at or above 140/90 mm Hg.

Blood Pressure Chart

How Frequent is High Blood Pressure?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of adults (118 million) in the United States have high blood pressure. This hypertension is more frequent in the African American population, about one in three African Americans have it. In 2018, about half a million people died because of hypertension as a primary cause. From 2003 to 2014, hypertension costs about $131 billion each year on average in the United States. In terms of gender, males (47%) are more frequent to have high blood pressure than females (43%)2.

What are the Symptoms and Risk Factors of Hypertension?

People with high blood pressure usually produce no symptoms. Knowing and recognizing the risk factors of high blood pressure is very important to be aware of the complications of it. Several physical and lifestyle attributes may help to develop high blood pressure, including3:

  • Age: The risk of having hypertension increases with your age. Reports on the prevalence of hypertension in the elderly shows that about 30 to 50% of adults over 50 years of age have suffered from chronic hypertension.
  • Obesity: Overweight people require more oxygen and nutrient supply to the tissue through circulating blood. This results in higher blood flow through the artery and puts pressure over the arterial wall and results in hypertension.
  • Physically inactive people: People who don’t do regular exercise have weak heart activity and they are more likely to become overweight.
  • Smoking or using tobacco: This habit raises your blood pressure for a certain period. The chemicals in those tobacco products can damage the lining of the arterial wall and make them narrow for blood flow. This escalates your risk of high blood pressure.
  • Consumption of alcohol: Excessive drinking of alcohol can disrupt the normal activity of your heart and increases the risk for hypertension.
  • Dietary habit: Consuming too much sodium may lead to high blood pressure.

How Can You Know if You Have Hypertension?

Measuring blood pressure is the only way to know if you have high blood pressure. This test uses a sphygmomanometer, a pressure cuff that is placed around the upper arm. Then the inflation of air (either manually or electronically) is started. This inflated air will compress the brachial artery and temporarily stop the blood flow. Then the air is slowly released to measure the lower and upper reading. If these readings exceed the normal level, then you have high blood pressure. One value is not enough to diagnose high blood pressure.

How Can You Treat Your High Blood Pressure?

Treatment of hypertension is essential because it damages the vital organs of your body such as the brain (develops stroke), heart (causes heart failure and increases the risk of a heart attack), chronic renal disease, circulatory problems, etc. You may develop chest pain and difficulties in breathing all of a sudden. The typical stroke symptoms such as speaking problems along with loss of balance, impairment of vision, and difficulty walking may be seen.

To prevent these complications, you need to monitor your blood pressure with regular check-ups. This will help you to identify and avoid possible hypertensive complications. The most common managemental practices include:

  • Eating fruits and vegetables and a reduced amount of salt.
  • Do regular exercise.
  • Avoid drinking excessive alcohol.
  • Quit smoking and stop using tobacco products.
  • Avoid being overweight.

Besides these lifestyle modifications, you often need medications to treat your high blood pressure as prescribed by your heart specialist. These medications help to bring down the blood pressure to a normal level and reduces your risk for complications like heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Medications like angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium, channel blockers, vasodilators, diuretics, angiotensin receptor blockers. may improve the condition of a hypertensive patient.

High blood pressure is almost always controllable. You have to take necessary action before it’s too late. A slight lifestyle change with proper medications can help you to lead a very healthy and complication-free life. Take charge of your health early by controlling hypertension.

References

  1. Rao, C. R., Kamath, V. G., Shetty, A. & Kamath, A. High Blood Pressure Prevalence and Significant Correlates: A Quantitative Analysis from Coastal Karnataka, India. ISRN Prev. Med. 2013, 1–6 (2013).
  2. Singh, S., Shankar, R. & Singh, G. P. Prevalence and Associated Risk Factors of Hypertension: A Cross-Sectional Study in Urban Varanasi. Int. J. Hypertens. 2017, (2017).
  3. Mbouemboue, O. P. & Ngoufack, T. J. O. High Blood Pressure Prevalence, Awareness, Control, and Associated Factors in a Low-Resource African Setting. Front. Cardiovasc. Med. 6, 1–10 (2019).

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