Making Some Noice about the Silent Killer
Why High Blood Pressure Awareness Month is Important
The first thing to know about hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is that it has no early significant symptoms. In fact, of the one in three (an alarming number in its own right) American adults who have high blood pressure, many aren't even aware that they have the condition. Some estimates of that one third of the adult population walking around with undiagnosed hypertension is about 30% to35%.
That lack of awareness and the sometimes fatal complications related to heart and arterial disease, stroke and kidney damage, are why hypertension is sometimes called "the silent killer."
The reason that it's important to speak out in the midst of this silence is that high blood pressure can be readily detected and treated.
Relatively Easy to Treat
For example, many people can keep blood pressure in a healthy range simply be making lifestyle changes including losing weight, increasing activity and eating more healthfully. That includes reducing your intake of salt and high sodium foods. If you're a man and have more than one to two drinks a day or a woman having more than one drink, cut back. And of course (it should go without saying but we'll say it anyway), if you smoke, stop.
In cases where maintaining these lifestyle measures doesn't help manage or prevent hypertension, your doctor will recommend a drug therapy based on your age and other medical conditions. Virtually all drugs have side effects that you and your doctor can discuss, but the good news is that patients with hypertension who are treated (or who make and maintain appropriate lifestyle changes) significantly lower their chances of having a stroke or heart attack.
Very Easy to Detect
High blood pressure is easy to diagnose because you simply have to have your blood pressure measured (taken) by a nurse, doctor or other knowledgeable person, including yourself. To diagnose high blood pressure, however, (a systolic pressure – the first number – of 140 or above and/or a diastolic pressure – the bottom number – of 90 or above) you should have your pressure checked in a medical facility or community screening program.
If it's determined that you need more frequent monitoring your care provider can give you the information you need regarding home monitoring. Although some people use the free blood pressure monitors sometimes found in pharmacies, they are often not properly maintained and calibrated and are, therefore, of limited benefit at best.
National Blood Pressure Awareness Month is a good time to remind ourselves about the importance of preventing and managing high blood pressure. But it's a yearlong health issue, so if you or someone in your family has hypertension make sure that regular checkups are part of the routine.
For everyone else, have your blood pressure checked. It's quick, it's easy and it truly may be lifesaving. And remember: blood pressure may be silent, but you don't have to be. Talk with your doctor about any blood pressure or related concerns you may have.
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