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May 27, 2014 > Learn About High Blood Pressure: A Silent Killer Affecting One of Every Three Americans

Learn About High Blood Pressure: A Silent Killer Affecting One of Every Three Americans

Nearly 67 million AmericansÑone in every three adultsÑhas high blood pressure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). High blood pressure, or hypertension, is also called the Òsilent killerÓ because most people who have it donÕt experience any symptoms for the first few years. This can be a serious problem because high blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the U.S.

ÒMost people with uncontrolled high blood pressure donÕt feel anything the first few years,Ó explained Vanessa Wilson, M.D., an internal medicine specialist with the Washington Township Medical Foundation. Dr. Wilson is also on the medical staff at Washington Hospital.

ÒOver time, high blood pressure can place stress on the bodyÕs organs, including the heart, kidneys and brain,Ó she continued. ÒEventually, if the condition isnÕt detected and treated, there may be complications involving those major organs, such as heart attack, stroke or kidney failure.Ó

The CDC reports that one in three adults with high blood pressure does not get treatment, and one in two do not have their high blood pressure under control.

Your blood pressure is measured with two numbers, such as 120/80. The first number is called systolic and represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number is called diastolic and represents the pressure when the heart rests between beats.

Normal blood pressure is generally accepted to be 120/80 or below. Experts now agree that, for people age 60 and older, normal blood is 150/90 or below. If you are under 60 years of age and have a blood pressure of 140/90 or above, you have hypertension. If you are 60 or older, you have hypertension if your blood pressure is above 150/90. People under 60 whose blood pressure is between 120/80 and 140/90 are considered Òprehypertensive.Ó

ÒBecause high blood pressure is generally a silent disease, getting regular screenings is very important,Ó emphasized Dr. Wilson. ÒYou cannot know if your blood pressure is normal or high unless you are screened, and this means having your blood pressure checked a minimum of once a year.Ó

A blood pressure check should be part of a routine physical exam by your doctor. If you donÕt have a physical exam each year, you can check your own pressure with a blood pressure machine purchased from a local pharmacy. Some pharmacies have their own blood pressure monitoring stations where you can check your blood pressure without having to purchase a machine.

The cuffs on most blood pressure machines go around your upper arm. However, some machines have a cuff that fits around your wrist.

ÒEither type is OK, according to cardiologists IÕve checked with,Ó stated Dr. Wilson. ÒThe arm cuff is considered the gold standard.Ó

Dr. Wilson recommended the following guidelines when checking your blood pressure:
* Do not measure your blood pressure when you are physically or emotionally stressed
* When first checking your blood pressure to determine the usual level, do it once or twice a day, starting in the morning.
* When taking your blood pressure, be in a relaxed, seated position with legs uncrossed. The arm where you are taking the pressure should be at about heart level.
* If your pressure is high, check it again after 5 minutes. If it continues to be high, check it every day for a few days. If it is still high, see your doctor for an evaluation.

Another thing to keep in mind is that levels for most people are higher in the morning than in the evening.

ÒWhen I first see a patient and find that they blood pressure measurement is high, I usually donÕt start treatment right away,Ó said Dr. Wilson. ÒThatÕs because some people get very anxious when they come to the doctor, and that may cause their blood pressure to rise. The syndrome is called Ôwhite coat hypertension.Õ

ÒIf I suspect Ôwhite coat hypertension,Õ I have the patient measure their blood pressure at home,Ó she continued. ÒIf their pressure is only high at my office, I usually conclude they have the syndrome and are not truly hypertensive.Ó

If your blood pressure is in the prehypertensive range, Dr. Wilson recommends you make lifestyle changes to try and lower your pressure. Changes include regular exercise, weight loss, eating a healthy diet with restricted salt, and limiting your consumption of alcohol. If you smoke, you should stop. Taking vitamin D may also help, if the level of vitamin D in your blood is below normal.

ÒAbout 75 to 86 percent of Americans have low vitamin D levels,Ó observed Dr. Wilson. ÒAnd this can contribute to high blood pressure.Ó

You should also consider what other medications you take.

ÒSome medications, such as those used to treat arthritis, can increase your blood pressure,Ó she explained.

If you have hypertension and it doesnÕt respond to lifestyle changes, you should talk with your doctor about the possibility of taking medication to control your blood pressure. Your doctor is best qualified to select the best medication and dosage for your individual needs.

Learn more.
To learn more about high blood pressure, go to www.cdc.gov, the website of the Centers for Disease Control. To find out more about Washington Township Medical Foundation, visit, www.mywtmf.com. For information about Washington Hospital, go to www.whhs.com.

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