THE SILENT KILLER
While heart disease makes headlines as the number one killer in America, high blood pressure doesn’t seem to get as much press. In fact, high blood pressure is frequently called the “silent killer.” Why? Because it often doesn’t have noticeable symptoms. Consider this: Three out of four people who have had their first stroke have had high blood pressure. And high blood pressure is linked to several other complications.
One out every three Americans has high blood pressure—roughly 29 percent. High blood pressure costs $46 billion each year in health care services and days missed from work. In addition, African-Americans tend to develop high blood pressure more often and at an earlier age than Hispanics and Caucasians.
Following are some complications that can occur if high blood pressure is not properly treated:
A stroke occurs when the brain is not able to get an adequate blood supply, most typically caused by a blood vessel blockage. Depriving the brain of oxygen can lead to long term damage, such as paralysis, vision loss and memory problems. High blood pressure is a contributing factor to strokes. Click here to view this animated illustration of what happens during a stroke.
The kidneys’ job is to filter toxins out of the blood. When the arteries in the kidneys are damaged by high blood pressure, they are unable to clean the blood, and also have difficulty regulating levels of salt, hormones and acids.
Even if you do not have a heart attack, high blood pressure can cause extensive damage to the heart and coronary arteries. Within the heart, high blood pressure:
- Damages the arterial walls. Once damaged, they can accumulate fats, plaque, and cholesterol
- Speeds up hardening of the arteries
- Can cause chest pain such as stable or unstable angina
- May contribute to an irregular heartbeat, such as atrial fibrillation
- Vision Loss
Strain placed on the blood vessels in the eyes can lead to permanent vision problems. In addition, the optic nerve may swell, making it difficult to see clearly. Your physician can evaluate your eyes by carefully examining the tiny capillaries on the retina.
ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION (ED)
ED may not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking about high blood pressure, but high blood pressure can restrict the blood flow needed for an erection.
High blood pressure may not exhibit any symptoms, and that is one reason why it is important to have your blood pressure regularly evaluated by your physician. Those at greatest risk for developing high blood pressure are:
- African Americans, particularly if a relative has high blood pressure.
- Women, particularly those 65 and over.
- Those with a family history of high blood pressure.
- Those who have too much salt in their diets.
- Those who do not exercise regularly.
While high blood pressure is known as the “silent killer,” the good news is that it is very treatable and is often managed through lifestyle changes and medication. See your doctor for more information.