Sometimes the deadliest diseases can be the hardest to detect.
Such is the case with hypertension, or high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-third of all adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure—a common condition that increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans.
Yet, because hypertension often has no warning signs or symptoms, many people don’t know they have it. And that’s the problem. Undetected, blood pressure can become dangerously high and become life-threatening, damaging bodily organs. That’s why hypertension is known as the “silent killer.”
Normal blood pressure—the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as it moves through the body—rises and falls throughout the day. But if it stays high for longer than normal or reaches extremely high levels, it can cause damage to the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes.
When to Seek Medical Care
Because there are no warning signs for hypertension and the damage it can cause, it is important to check blood pressure regularly and know your levels. Most local pharmacies have blood pressure cuffs and can check it for you.
The American Heart Association defines five categories of hypertension. If your blood pressure reaches stage 1 or stage 2, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options. If you have a sustained blood pressure of 180/110 or higher, call your doctor right away. He or she may intervene immediately or arrange for emergency evaluation.
Just about anyone, at any age, can develop hypertension. However, African-Americans and women over 65 years of age are at higher risk for the disease than other groups. Other risk factors for developing high blood pressure include family history, older age, lack of physical activity, a diet high in sodium and low nutritional value, being overweight, stress, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.
Treatment and Prevention
According to the CDC, only half of the people who have the disease manage it properly. Yet it is possible to prevent and treat it. A physician can prescribe medications to help lower or maintain blood pressure.
In addition, a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a balanced diet, staying physically active and not smoking can help control blood pressure. Managing other existing health conditions may help, too.
Checking your blood pressure regularly, especially if you are at a higher risk, is important to the health of your heart and arteries, and your other vital organs as well. Don’t let a silent disease become a silent killer.
For more information about emergency, urgent and trauma care, visit MedStarGeorgetown.org/ED or call 202-342-2400.