If a condition causes no visible symptoms, it can seem easy enough to ignore it. But experts stress that out of sight, out of mind could spell trouble when it comes to high blood pressure.
What Is Hypertension?
"You can have hypertension and feel perfectly fine, but it can lead to problems with your arteries," explained David Winter, MD, president, chief clinical officer and chairman of the board of HealthTexas Provider Network (HTPN), a division of Baylor Health Care System, in an interview with dailyRx News.
Dr. Winter explained that the heart pumps around 70 times a minute, causing the blood vessels to dilate and expand.
"If the blood pressure is high, they dilate and expand to an excessive degree, causing wear and tear on the blood vessels," Dr. Winter said. "Eventually — over not days, weeks or years, but over decades — those blood vessels wear out and they can burst, they can cause blockages, or they can develop other symptoms leading to heart attacks and strokes."
Because of this, detecting hypertension, which can often be a genetic condition, can be important to good health.
Knowledge Is Power
Dr. Winter stressed that many people don't realize they have high blood pressure, so you should periodically have your blood pressure checked.
Not treating high blood pressure — either because it may be symptomless or because it is undetected — can lead to added stress and damage to the blood vessels.
Current guidelines call for most adults to get their blood pressure checked at least every one to two years, and definitely every year if past tests have shown high blood pressure or certain other conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
When blood pressure is tested, results are given as two numbers: the systolic (top number) and the diastolic (bottom number). A blood pressure above 140 over 90 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) is typically considered high.
The key is simple, Dr. Winter said.
"If you don't know what your blood pressure is, find out," he said. "And if it's high, get it treated."
There are many good medications for treating hypertension today, Dr. Winter said. With multiple options on the market, most people can find the right fit for managing their blood pressure without side effects.
Dr. Winter also stressed the importance of non-medication approaches to treating high blood pressure, such as exercise, maintaining an ideal weight, avoiding cigarettes and eating a good diet.
"For many folks, a high-salt diet causes blood pressure to go up, so reducing salt can get your blood pressure to go down," Dr. Winter said.
Hopes are often high for patients with blood pressure — as long as they realize they have the condition and take steps to treat it.
"In fact, in this country we've been very effective with [treatments] the last three or four decades, and the incidence of stroke and heart attacks in this country from high blood pressure is declining," Dr. Winter said.