Myth or Medicine
Second Opinion 5
Hypertension, the medical term for abnormally high blood pressure, is one disease that has no trouble living up to its nickname: the silent killer. Unlike some medical conditions, hypertension does not give you any warning signs. You can have it, feel perfectly healthy, and may never even know that something is wrong until serious, sometimes life-threatening, damage has already been done to critical organs in your body.
The statistics surrounding hypertension in the United States are alarming:
- Hypertension is the number one world wide epidemic, but treatable, medical condition.
- An estimated 50 million Americans have hypertension, including one in three adults, and over 60% of all senior citizens.
- About two million people are diagnosed with hypertension annually.
- Hypertension contributes to about 700,000 deaths a year from stroke, and heart and kidney disease.
- A third of those who have this disease do not know they have it.
- The illnesses brought on by uncontrolled high blood pressure cost Americans billions of dollars each year.
The good news is that hypertension is easily detectable and usually can be treated with a high degree of success. The bad news is that when it goes undetected, as is the case with millions of Americans who have hypertension but do not know it, the "silent killer" can cause:
- The heart enlarges and leads to heart failure
- Aneurysms (like small blisters) to form in the brain's blood vessels, which may burst and cause a stroke
- Blood vessels in the kidney to narrow, which may lead to kidney failure
- Arteries throughout the body to "harden" faster, especially those in the heart, brain, kidneys, and legs. This can lead to a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, or amputation of part of the leg
- Blood vessels in the eyes to burst, bleed or thicken, which may cause vision changes and can result in blindness
While hypertension can strike both adults and children, those at greater risk include:
- People over age 35
- African Americans
- People with a family history of high blood pressure
- Overweight people
- People who are not physically active
- People who consume too much salt
- People who drink too much alcohol
- People who have diabetes, gout and kidney disease
- Pregnant women
- Women who take birth control pills, who are overweight, had high blood pressure during pregnancy, have a family history of high blood pressure, or have mild kidney disease
Because usually there are no symptoms, hypertension can only be detected by measuring blood pressure-a simple, painless test that is part of routine physical exams. It is not unusual for someone who is seeing a physician about one condition to leave the office with a major surprise: a diagnosis of hypertension.
Discovering that you have hypertension may initially seem like bad news, but having that knowledge can transform you into an informed patient and literally save your life. You can then begin working with your physician to develop a sound plan for reducing and controlling your blood pressure - therapy which may include a variety of lifestyle changes as well as treatment with one or more antihypertensive drugs.
Hypertension usually can be controlled but not cured. It is a disease that usually requires lifelong monitoring with treatment that may go on indefinitely. Once you settle into a treatment plan, which may include lifestyle changes or drug therapy or both, keeping your blood pressure lower may seem easier than you imagined. And by sticking with your treatment, you will go a long way toward reducing your risk of diseases like stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease.
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