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Release Date: 2/21/2014

Hypertension: The silent killer

Carmen McCarthy, APRN, BC, Nurse Practitioner

Carmen McCarthy, APRN, BC, Nurse Practitioner

By Carmen McCarthy, APRN, BC, Nurse Practitioner

The next time you are out with a group of friends at church, or at one of your children’s school events, take a look around at all the adults who are there. One out of three of them may be suffering from something that could kill them, and they might not even be aware that they have it.

It’s called hypertension, or high blood pressure. Doctor’s call it the “silent killer” because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 67 million American adults have hypertension. The latest statistics indicate more than 348,000 deaths in American included high blood pressure as the primary or contributing cause.

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood against the walls of your arteries as the blood circulates throughout your body. During the day, your blood pressure normally rises and falls, but it can cause health problems if it stays high for an extended period of time. Having high blood pressure raises your risk for heart disease and stroke, both of which are leading causes of death in the United States.

Here’s a startling fact from the CDC: 69 percent of those who have a first heart attack, 77 percent of those who have a first stroke, and 74 percent of those with chronic heart failure had high blood pressure.

Several risk factors for high blood pressure are out of our control, including age, gender, and family history. The good news, though, is there are quick a few risk factors we can address immediately.

The first is to get your blood pressure checked regularly. This can be done at your doctor’s office, but you can also get it checked through your employer’s wellness program, health care fairs, local fire departments and drugstores. Often, churches will offer free screenings. Knowing your blood pressure and monitoring any fluctuations is the first step in detection.

What you eat is also important. Stick with low-sodium, low-fat foods. Cook at home, where you can monitor the portions and what is going into the dish, rather than eating out at a restaurant.

Exercise 30-40 minutes a day, five times a week. Exercise can be anything that gets you moving, especially if you are living a sedentary lifestyle, or if you spend much of your day at a desk.

Studies have shown that losing 10 percent of your body weight will have an immediate effect on your blood pressure level. So will managing your stress. If you can’t get out and exercise, find a hobby you enjoy.

About half of those with high blood pressure have their condition under control. If you are someone who has been diagnosed, but you are still struggling, St. Anthony’s Medical Center has resources to help. Diagnostic tools at St. Anthony’s new Hypertension Clinic include a special cuff that can be worn 24 hours a day and will record blood pressure continuously, access to trials offering the latest in hypertension treatment, and screening for sleep apnea. Hypertension is manageable and treatable, if you know you have it and work to stay healthy.

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