Most everyone will experience high blood pressure at some point in their life. A temporary spike in blood pressure can often be attributed to a stressful situation, something you may have eaten, or even a medication you are taking. But a sustained high blood pressure independent of these circumstances signals hypertension – a concern for both you and your doctor.
“High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, is a primary risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It may also damage your kidneys and eyes,” said Dr. Gregory Giugliano, associate director, Cardiac Catheterization Lab and Research in the Baystate Heart and Vascular Program.
May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month – a time to increase awareness about the prevention and treatment of the life-threatening condition. One in every three Americans has high blood pressure, and many don’t know that they already have it or are at risk to develop it.
“High blood pressure is often called the ‘silent killer’ because by the time symptoms occur, serious health problems have already begun to develop. However, the condition is easily detected and can usually be treated successfully with medications once the diagnosis is made,” said Dr. Giugliano.
“Anyone can develop hypertension, and as you grow older, the likelihood of developing high blood pressure increases, especially if you are overweight, obese or have diabetes,” added the Baystate Medical Center cardiologist.
Other risk factors include high cholesterol, physical inactivity, drinking too much alcohol and smoking.
A recent finding by the Centers for Disease Control noted that one of the biggest culprits of high blood pressure is the consumption of twice the recommended amount of salt daily. Americans are eating over 3,500 mg of salt a day when the recommended amount is 1,500 mg daily.
These risk factors are modifiable and can be addressed with lifestyle changes and medications, however, “some risk factors such as age, ethnicity, and family history of high blood pressure are uncontrollable,” said Dr. Giugliano.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 90 percent of adults ages 45-64 will develop high blood pressure during the remainder of their lifetime, while about 25 percent of American adults ages 20 years or older have prehypertension. In the United States, high blood pressure is more common among blacks than whites. About 44 percent of black women have high blood pressure. Mexican-Americans have the lowest level of hypertension compared to non-Hispanic whites and blacks.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute identifies high blood pressure as a factor in 67 percent of heart attacks and 77 percent of strokes, and it precedes
74 percent of cases of heart failure.
“High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke because it puts unnecessary stress on blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken and deteriorate,” said Dr. Carmel Armon, chief, Neurology Division, Baystate Medical Center.
Since a person usually does not experience any symptoms associated with high blood pressure, both Drs. Armon and Giugliano recommend having your blood pressure checked at every health contact or at least once a year by your physician. Also, patients taking prescription medications for hypertension who have their blood pressure under control should have it checked every 3-6 months.
A blood pressure reading of 120/80 is normal, and a reading greater than 140/90 is high. If your blood pressure is between these two, more monitoring is reasonable to identify if changes occur and when to initiate therapy.
“For those whose blood pressure is found to be high, your doctor’s first course of action before prescribing medication may be to suggest lifestyle changes such as eating foods low in fat and sodium, losing weight, getting regular physical exercise, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco,” said Dr. Armon.
If you do not have a primary care provider to check your blood pressure, many area pharmacies often offer free blood pressure clinics. For a physician referral, call
Baystate Health Link at 413-794-2255 or outside the Springfield calling area at 800-377-4325.
For more information on heart disease and stroke and their association with high blood pressure, visit baystatehealth.org and click on the Baystate Heart and Vascular Program and the Neurosciences tabs under “Services.”