Hypertension now affects 32 percent of adults 20 and older, was the primary diagnosis for 46.3 million visits to doctor's offices and hospitals in 2007 and caused 25,734 deaths in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control website.
Those numbers are concerning, so here's some of the basics of what you need to know to identify, treat and help prevent hypertension.
Q: What is hypertension or high blood pressure?
A: Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure. Blood pressure consists of two measurements, systolic and diastolic. Systolic blood pressure is when the heart is contracted, pushing blood into the arteries. Diastolic blood pressure occurs when the heart is at rest, when blood is filling back into the heart preparing for the next beat.
Blood pressure is written with the systolic measurement above the diastolic, such as 120/80. Normal blood pressure is systolic pressures between 100-120, and diastolic pressures between 60-80. Prehypertension is systolic pressures between 121-139 and diastolic between 81-99. Hypertension is blood pressures greater than 140/90.
Hypertension is diagnosed after two to three measurements that are above 140/90 and most often requires treatment. Although, prehypertension can also be treated, especially if an individual has other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or history of stroke.
Q: Who is at risk for developing hypertension?
A: There are several risk factors associated with high blood pressure including obesity, sedentary lifestyle, genetics, African-American heritage, smoking, excessive alcohol and sodium intake, high cholesterol, high stress and low vitamin D levels.
Q: What are the symptoms of hypertension?
A: Most individuals with elevated blood pressure have no symptoms, and therefore hypertension is known as the "silent killer." However, as the blood pressure continues to rise patients may suffer from headaches, visual changes or fatigue. Uncontrolled severe hypertension can lead to stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure or kidney damage.
Q: How is high blood pressure treated?
A: High blood pressure is treated with lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation, removing sodium from the diet and medications. There are several classes of medications that should be individualized depending on the patient's health status. For example, those recovering from heart attack will likely be started on a beta blocker, which has been shown to decrease mortality. Diabetics should be started on an ace inhibitor as it is protective of the kidney.
Q: How do you prevent hypertension?
A: The first step in avoiding high blood pressure is stopping behaviors that increase the risks of developing it. Patients should maintain a healthy weight, exercise daily, eat a lower sodium diet, stop smoking and decrease stress. Other factors cannot be controlled such as a family history of hypertension; however your blood pressure can be monitored. Seeing a health care provider annually for a preventive check up will go a long way in stopping the possible complications of uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Laurie Marbas, MD, is a family physician at Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in Rifle.