High blood pressure is like that silent flatus (fancy medical term for fart) from your dog, or that disapproving stare from your new wife, which can be silent and also figuratively deadly. But high blood pressure is no joke and can be literally silent and deadly! In fact, hypertension has been given the name "silent killer"; as high blood pressure may be causing your body damage for years before symptoms are felt or recognized. High blood pressure contributes to 360,000 deaths per year (or almost 1,000 deaths per day) in the U.S.!
Rapid rises in blood pressure or very high blood pressure may cause headaches, neurologic changes, chest pains, or heart failure. If these symptoms develop, medical attention should be sought immediately. More commonly, high blood pressure silently damages the arteries of the eyes, kidneys, brain and heart over time. Like the pipes in your house, your arteries can be damaged if they are under too much pressure, leading to kidney disease, strokes, vision problems and heart failure!
In most cases, the cause of high blood pressure is not known but it is clear that genetics, poor diet, little exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, older age and some medications contribute to developing high BP. In 5 to 10% of the population, another disease process such as thyroid, adrenal, or kidney disease, may be the cause of high blood pressure.
Healthy diet including lower salt intake, regular exercise, smoking cessation, limiting alcohol, and weight loss may significantly lower your BP to an acceptable level. If despite these efforts your blood pressure remains elevated, your health care provider may prescribe medication to lower your BP.
Follow your doctor's diet and exercise advice. The important thing is to return to your doctor for another BP reading, as medication treatment of high BP (unless very high or symptomatic) should not be based on just one reading. Your doctor may also measure your BP in both arms and while sitting and standing. If there are variations in these readings your doctor may choose a different medical treatment for you. With the right lifestyle modifications, you may not require medication.
Stay healthy and smile at the 1880’s tombstone inscription of one Lester Moore who died in a gunfight. "Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a .44, no Les, no more."
Dr. Nagpaul is a medical doctor and is board-certified in Internal Medicine. He currently is the Medical Director at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, DeMay Living Center and Wayne County Public Health. This column is meant to be educational and not intended to be used to make individual treatment decisions. Prior to starting or stopping any treatment, please confer with your own health care provider.
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