Next time you are with a group of 3 friends, take a good look around; one of you will have high blood pressure. The sad part is, since there are no symptoms, you may not even be aware of it. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, or kidney failure. Various risk factors contribute to this disease that are both under our control, and out of our control. The only way to determine if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked. The insidious nature of this disease makes it a true Silent Killer.
The brain requires unobstructed blood flow to nourish its many functions. Very high, sustained blood pressure will eventually cause blood vessels to weaken. Over time these weaken vessels can break, and blood will leak into the brain. The area of the brain that is being fed by these broken vessels start to die, and this will cause a stroke. Additionally, if a blot clot blocks a narrowed artery, blood ceases to flow and a stroke will occur. Symptoms of a stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, confusion, trouble speaking, or seeing, sudden severe headache. If you or someone with you has one or more of these signs, don’t delay, call 911.
Like the brain, the heart requires blood to bring oxygen, and nutrients to its muscle tissue. The narrowing of the arteries due to blockage can cause high blood pressure. If this blockage occurs in the arteries of the heart, coronary arteries, heart muscle damage can occur, resulting in a heart attack. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, however most heart attacks start slowly with mild pain and discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Shortness of breath may occur, as well as nausea, or lightheadedness. It is vital to get help immediately if any of these symptoms occur.
The kidneys act as filters to rid the body of all waste products. Eventually, high blood pressure can thicken, then narrow the blood vessels of the kidneys. The kidneys becomes less efficient, filtering less fluid, and waste builds up in the blood. Over time, the kidneys may fail altogether. When this happens, medical treatment such as dialysis, or a kidney transplant may be needed.
The best way to find out if you have high blood pressure is by having your blood pressure checked regularly. Generally speaking, doctors will diagnose a person with high blood pressure on the basis of two or more readings, taken on different occasions. A consistent blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high blood pressure, or hypertensive. It is vital to take steps to keep your blood pressure under control. The treatment goal is blood pressure below 140/90 and lower for people with other conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle including healthy eating habits, reducing salt in the diet, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, being physically active, and quitting smoking is an effective step in preventing and controlling high blood pressure. If lifestyle improvements alone are not sufficient in keeping pressure controlled, it may be necessary to add blood pressure medications. There are several options that physicians have at their disposal, and each option should be discussed, as to their side effects and efficacy.