Hypertension: “The silent killer”
By Mary Brown, FNP-C at Hegg Health Center in Rock Valley, Iowa
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called “the silent killer”.
However, I haven’t heard that language used in a while. I guess it sounds a little too harsh, and it makes people want to turn from this strong language and think about happier things. I, too, like to think about happier things- like playing with children in my family. Like enjoying holidays and parties and simple get togethers or just an average Tuesday in good health. Why, then, think about high blood pressure?
Why is high blood pressure so ominously called “the silent killer”?
Well, for good reason. High blood pressure doesn’t have any symptoms. You only know about high blood pressure in early stages if you have your blood pressure checked – either at your yearly check-up with your provider, at an appointment for an illness that cropped up, or because you check it elsewhere. You won’t have any big sign that will indicate to you that you have high blood pressure. But all the while, high blood pressure increases your chances of heart attack, stroke, blindness, and kidney disease, to name a few.
Normal blood pressure ranges up to 120/80 (“120 over 80”) but blood pressure can rise and fall with exercise, rest, or emotions. The pressures are measured in millimeters of mercury. The upper number (120) is the pressure when the heart pushes blood out to the rest of the body (systolic pressure). The bottom number (80) is the pressure when the heart rests between beats (diastolic pressure).
- Healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80.
- Pre-high blood pressure (prehypertension) is from 120/80 to 139/90.
- Stage I high blood pressure ranges from 140/90 to 159/99.
- Stage II high blood pressure is over 160/100.
If repeated checks of your blood pressure show that it is higher than 140/90, you have hypertension.
What puts you at risk for high blood pressure?
Both men and women are at risk. Age is a factor, and after age 40 it is seen more frequently. It tends to run in families. So, if either of your parents or any of your siblings have high blood pressure, you are at risk too. These are examples of things you can’t help – you can’t change these risk factors.
However, you can change some other risk factors. Being overweight or obese puts you at higher risk. So does smoking, a diet high in sodium, excess sugar, and low in key nutrients. Lack of exercise also puts you at risk, and increases your risk of being overweight, which of course increases your risk for high blood pressure.
What can you do about high blood pressure?
- Stop smoking, if you smoke.
- Diet. DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) is a simple, natural, affordable way to get a handle on high blood pressure, or reduce your risk before it starts. It’s good for the whole family, so no need to make different meals for different diets.
- Exercise 30 minutes daily, 5 days per week.
If you do these things, you are well on your way to helping lower your blood pressure, or to reducing your risk of high blood pressure.
However, if you have high blood pressure, your provider will want to treat you with medicine. Talk to your health care provider about what his or her recommendation is, and ask as many questions as you need to. We are happy to help! Call the Hegg Medical Clinic at 712-476-8100 to schedule a visit to discuss your blood pressure.
Most importantly, don’t ignore high blood pressure. Your future depends on it!