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An estimated one in three adults in our country suffers from high blood pressure—roughly 75 million people—according to latest estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, only about half of those people have the condition under control. Unfortunately, this is because many people are unaware they even have high blood pressure. Also called hypertension, high blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” for its lack of warning signs and symptoms.
But knowing your risks, making good lifestyle choices and having yours screened are all steps in the right direction to avoiding or abating high blood pressure.
Blood pressure refers to the amount of pressure our blood applies to the inner walls of our arteries, which carry blood from our hearts to our organs. So, high blood pressure is diagnosed when that pressure becomes excessive.
While everyone is at risk for hypertension, some folks are at higher risk than others.
Lots of factors affect your blood pressure, including age, diet and weight. There are also genetic components involved, and if you have had a close relative diagnosed with, or suffer complications from, hypertension, that alone is reason enough to consult your primary care physician on the issue.
Hereditary components can be managed by lifestyle modifications. Think about decreasing your salt and sodium intake, and if you are overweight, dropping a few pounds can drop your blood pressure points significantly. Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and quitting smoking will both greatly affect your blood pressure.
Age is a huge factor, because our arteries become harder as the years go by. As arteries become less supple, physics tells us that the pressure is bound to go up. If you are 60 and older, your risk for hypertension goes up. Hypertension in people over 60 occurs in more than 65% of African-American men, 80% of African-American women, 55% of white men, and 65% of white women.
At any age, exercise remains a great equalizer against hypertension. As long as you are healthy enough for regular exercise—something your doctor can tell you—getting up and moving for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week will yield positive results.
Left untreated, hypertension increases the strain on the heart and arteries, which can lead to organ damage. Again, the signs are not always evident. Some people with hypertension may experience dull headaches, but most have no symptoms. So, without knowing it you could be at increased risk for heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and/or kidney failure.
This is where the importance of screening comes in. I cannot say enough about how important it is to have your blood pressure checked, even if only by one of those screening machines we all see in our pharmacies. But the best way to get an accurate reading on your blood pressure is to ask your primary care physician or another healthcare professional.
Early detection of hypertension, as with most health conditions, is one of your strongest allies in regaining optimum health. If you are diagnosed with hypertension, there are recommendations and prescriptions your doctor can make to help. Don’t hesitate to ask your physician to assess your risk for this silent killer.
[Dr. Lauren Roman is interim medical director for Catskill Regional Medical Group (CRMG). She is board-certified in Family Medicine and attended Medical School at the University at Buffalo. CRMG is a part of the Greater Hudson Valley Health System, comprising Orange Regional Medical Center and Catskill Regional Medical Center. For more information visit www.catskillregional medicalgroup.org.]