Hypertension--or high blood pressure--is called a silent killer because many people have it for years without knowing. More than 50 million Americans have high blood pressure; about 30 percent have yet to be diagnosed.
While many people view high blood pressure as non-life-threatening, Ihab Hajjar, M.D., associate director of the Cardiovascular Research Program at Hebrew SeniorLife's Institute for Aging Research, says that, if left untreated, high blood pressure can put you at increasing risk for serious complications.
- A medical condition in which blood pressure (the force applied to the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body) is consistently higher than 140 systolic and 90 diastolic. Recently, the term pre-hypertension has been used for individuals who do not have hypertension, but have blood pressure levels that are above 120/90. These individuals are at increased risk of developing hypertension in the next five years.
- In 90 to 95 percent of cases, there is no identifiable cause; this is called primary hypertension. In these cases, hereditary and lifestyle factors, such as a high-salt diet, overweight, physical inactivity or stress, contribute to hypertension.
- In a smaller number of cases (about 5% to 10%), a cause may be identified. The most common causes include kidney disease, adrenal disease, thyroid disease, and sleep apnea.
- Certain medications, including birth control pills, decongestants and over-the-counter pain relievers that contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, may cause or worsen hypertension.
- Often none
- Dizziness, nosebleeds and dull ache at back of the head, though rare
- In older people, poor balance, dizziness upon standing, and difficulty with memory can be a symptoms or complications of high blood pressure
- Age - risk increases the older you get
- Race - African-Americans more than any other racial group
- Sex - in young adulthood, more common in men; more common in women over age 60
- Family history
- Physical inactivity
- Sodium sensitivity/salt intake
- Low potassium intake
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Blood pressure measurement with a sphygmomanometer
- Diuretics (water pills)
- Beta blockers
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Calcium channel blockers
- Healthy food choices - lower salt intake
- Weight loss if overweight
- Smoking cessation
- Stress reduction
ACE inhibitor - a drug that helps blood vessels relax by blocking the formation of naturally-occurring chemicals that narrow the blood vessels.
Adrenal disease - a group of conditions that affect the adrenal glands, which secrete hormones, especially stress hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline, into the bloodstream.
Beta blocker - a drug that decreases the heart rate and force of the heart's contractions to lower blood pressure.
Calcium channel blocker - a medication that helps relax blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more easily through them.
Diastolic - the second number in a blood pressure reading, which represents the pressure in arteries when the heart is at rest.
Diuretic - a drug that acts on the kidneys to help eliminate sodium and water from the body, thus reducing blood volume.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories - commonly prescribed drugs to treat arthritis and inflammation of tissues.
Thyroid disease - a group of diseases that affect the thyroid gland, which secretes hormones needed to help the body's metabolism function at a satisfactory rate.
Systolic - the first number in a blood pressure reading, which represents the maximum pressure exerted in arteries when the heart is pumping.
American Heart Association - www.americanheart.org
National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute - www.nhlbi.nih.gov
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