Spotlight on High Blood Pressure: The 'Silent Killer'

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Happy May! Have you moved past the ''resolution'' phase and established a consistent diet and exercise routine?  Hopefully your new lifestyle consists of healthy habits and you are really starting to get a feel for what it takes to make a permanent lifestyle change.   If you aren’t quite there yet, it’s OK.  Bumps in the road are expected! Continue to try to make more good choices than poor choices and reevaluate your plan on a regular basis. 

Today is a great day to look over your plan and make sure that everything is working well for you.  If you are having trouble with maintaining consistency and sticking to it, ask yourself if it’s time to do some tweaking.  Perhaps you are still not getting to the gym 3-4 times a week as you initially promised yourself. If that's the case, then maybe it’s time to start a home workout regimen.  Consider enlisting the help of a personal trainer in order to add some accountability and to shake up your routine.  If you still have trigger foods in your kitchen, it’s time to finally get rid of them!  Leaving your triggers in your home and attempting to avoid them saps your willpower and leaves you empty when you are faced with other challenges that you can’t control.  Commit to being consistent!  I will now step off my soap box and move on to discuss a condition that you can help prevent by getting into a consistent healthy routine.

 May is National Stroke and High Blood Pressure month! On May 11, 1989 Present George Bush signed a presidential proclamation designating May as National Stroke Awareness Month.  The month of May is also designated as High Blood Pressure education month, which is appropriate since high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the most important risk factor for stroke. 

Stroke affects approximately 795,000 Americans per year.  A stroke can occur at all stages of life and is the fourth largest cause of death in the United States.  There are 7 million stroke survivors living in America and stroke is a leading cause of disability.  High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. 

Like many of my thoughts on the concepts of ''diet and exercise,'' I believe it is vital to illuminate underlying causes of bad outcomes.  So, I would like to focus on high blood pressure, which is also known as the ''silent killer.''

What is blood pressure?  High blood pressure is a condition that typically does not cause symptoms and, if left untreated, can cause strokes, heart attacks, and kidney disease.  Technically, blood pressure is the pressure inside your arteries (the pipes that carry oxygenated blood).  In a blood pressure reading, the top number (systolic) is the pressure when the heart is contracting and the bottom number (diastolic) is when the heart is relaxed.  If your blood pressure is too high, over time (typically over years) the arteries become weak and damaged, causing the disease that can lead to strokes, heart disease, and kidney disease.    

What is normal blood pressure?  Ideal blood pressure is less than 120/80, but high blood pressure is currently defined as having a blood pressure of greater than 140/90.  Those with blood pressure somewhere is the middle are labeled as having prehypertension and are at risk for developing high blood pressure and its complications. 

What makes high blood pressure so dangerous?  High blood pressure is a silent killer because it can lurk for many years without causing any symptoms.  Untreated high blood pressure in your 20s or 30s may not become symptomatic until your 40s or 50s.  Detecting and treating high blood pressure now is an investment in your future health. 

How many Americans are affected by high blood pressure?  1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure.  Unfortunately, only about 48 percent of them who know they have it actually have the condition under control.   So, it is important to ask your doctor why your blood pressure is not regulating if you are taking medications and are still not within normal range. 

Why should you want to have normal blood pressure?  Knowing your blood pressure and making sure that it stays within the normal range is an investment in your future.  Years of exposure to high blood pressure will damage your blood vessels and cause future disease.  If you have already had complications of high blood pressure, getting it under control will decrease the risk of recurrent events.  Due to genetics and other conditions, there are people who will have elevated blood pressure despite doing everything by the book and they will still need to take medications.  If you are thinking that you will just take medications to control high blood pressure if you get it, rethink your logic.  Many of the blood pressure medications have side effects that are not fun to deal with. 

What lifestyle changes I can make to improve my blood pressure? The following habits have all been associated with lowering blood pressure: Losing weight, exercising at least 30 minutes on most days of the week, lowering sodium intake, limiting alcohol intake (no more than two drinks per day), and choosing a balanced diet that avoids processed foods and focuses on fruits and vegetable, lean meats, and whole grains.

What can I do to lower my blood pressure?  Knowledge is power, and the first thing you have to do is to know your blood pressure.  For those of you with normal blood pressure, it is important to continue to monitor it at least yearly to catch any upward trends early on.  If you are on blood pressure medications, it is important to take them as prescribed and to not let your prescription run out.  Running out of your blood pressure medication can lead to a potentially harmful withdrawal response that can dramatically increase your blood pressure. 

The bottom line:  High blood pressure can silently harm your body for years and cause disease in multiple organ systems.  Know your numbers and practice healthy lifestyle habits in order to minimize your risk of future disease.  If you already are diagnosed with high blood pressure, take your medications as prescribed and continue to live your life to the fullest!

Never give up and keep Sparking, everyone! 

What are you doing to keep your blood pressure in check?

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CHURTADO0710 8/13/2017
Love that things are explained in a way someone outside of the healthcare services can understand how important this is Report
GGRSPARK 8/13/2017
Years ago i was prescribed a diuretic for a moderate high BP, and now when its 'normal' my new MD refuses to let me off the meds. I sometimes feel lightheaded, but she refused to change my dose. Potassium intake is critical for me. I plan to ask again. Report
Life style changes DO work! I had been on Blood Pressure medication for 12 years before joining SparkPeople. Have sustained my better choices for 9 months and am off my BP med and then the required Potassium (side effect). Report
Thank you for explaining this condition in terms that I actually understand! Report
Thanks for the reminder. I need to check it more often. Think I will go to the drug store tomorrow and check it. Sooooo important!!! Thanks for sharing!!!
As a healthcare worker in a major hospital for almost 20 years, I have seen the number of patients on dialysis sky rocket. One of the complications of high blood pressure is kidney failure. If you think getting healthy is hard, do some research on Hemo-dialysis and Peritoneal-dialysis. I have seen people in their late 30's and early 40's need these life prolonging procedures because they have refused to take responsibility for their health and to follow their doctor's advice. Once you damage your kidneys to that extent, they don't get better. Report
Josiebum: There is such a thing as the "doctor's office spike" where your blood shoots up at the doctor's office due to stress, but is normal in other, more relaxed environment. The only way to check for this to get a home blood pressure meter and check it yourself. Spikes from stress aren't good for you, but they're not as bad as sustained high blood pressure.

When I have an elevated blood pressure at the doctor's office, I usually blame it on exertion. I'm usually late for appointments, and end up climbing up from the subway in a hurry. That'll get blood pressure up, guaranteed, and it takes a few minutes in the waiting room to come back down; time I don't always get. Report
Thanks for the information. My dad has been treaing hyprtension for almost 40 years. I have always kept an eye on my blood pressure because of it. Report
This is a good reminder for everyone to keep track of their Blood Pressure. High Blood Pressure is categorized as Heart Disease. And, for those who aren't aware, Heart Disease is the number one killer of women in the US. I also lived most of my life with lovely low bp, until I hit menopause. Hormones can effect your blood pressure - as BPELTONEN mentioned above with birth control, it can happen on either end of the hormonal balancing act! Losing as little as ten pounds can help lower blood pressure, as can regular exercise. Many times stress adds to our HBP as stress hormones can also affect our heart rate and circulation. There are some excellent stress relieving techniques available that don't take much time and don't cost a penny! Here's a link to one that I recommend. It's a breathing practice used in India exclusively for managing HBP.
Try it and let me know what you think! Report
thank you for this important blog; and JOSIEBUM do not wait until next month to get it rechecked; a nurse would tell you to follow up immediately to find out why it is 'high' (kidneys? vessels? other) and give you instructions. With me, it was a combination of weight, poor exercise, and food choices. Change has to be a life-long endeavor. Report
I can vouch for the silent part of this. Last summer, I went to the doctor because I was having trouble breathing especially at night. The nurse came in took my bp, then took it in the other arm. She then left came back with a different cuff, did both arms again. Then a different nurse came in and did both arms. The doctor came in took it again, then asked me how I was still up walking around. I said, I feel fine except for the whole breathing thing. The doc says your bp is 200 over 130. Doc asked did you ever have this or that or that for ten minutes. I never had any of those things. Before that day my bp was never the least bit high. But in my case it had apparently been going on for quite some time because, A couple of days later I ended up in the hospital diagnosed with congestive heart failure on my 45th birthday. I can vouch for the whole silent killer, no warning sign thing! Report
Thanks for the post and awareness !!! Report
great blog
I really appreciate Dr. Birdy reminding us how to be successful in making our lifestyle changes - you can get on your soap box any time!
excellent (& necessary) information on a major health issue.
I'll be more proactive in taking care of my health as a result of reading this article.
My ex has chronic HBP and is dedicated to taking his medicines, exercising daily and keeping his weight down to control it. Report
Thanks for a very important post! Report
I had my blood pressure checked last week when I had my Cervical Smear test, the nurse said it was high & to get it done again next month - I didn't realise how serious it was; so Thank You for high lighting this & bringing it home!!!! (Smear was "normal" Thank God!!) Report
Wonderful blog! Two years ago this May my son-in-law's twin brother had a massive stroke while volunteering on the stroke ward of the hospital. Even being in the best place possible to have a stroke, he was unable to be saved. We lost a wonderful young man. Report
AWESOME blog & great reminder to keep our Blood Pressure in check, thankfully mine is doing great. Report
Luckily my BP is, and always has been, on the low side! No worries for me, but important to check regularly anyways... you never know when things will change. Report
Yes, check that blood pressure! Ladies -- especially get your blood pressure checked if you are on birth control! Mine went terribly high (we're talking 170's over 90's!) on hormonal contraceptives, even ones that at first didn't seem to bother me. And I had no idea until the cuff was on my arm!

Figuring that out and also getting my weight back down helped stabilize my blood pressure. Now I just try to eat right and exercise to make sure the numbers stay friendly. Report
Thank you for a needed reminder of the reasons to monitor and keep blood pressure under control. Report
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