Hypertension: The silent killer
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure, a condition that affects about one third of the country’s adult population. Chances are, you’ve had your blood pressure measured each time you’ve gone to see your doctor. Blood pressure is one of the vital signs used by healthcare practitioners to monitor overall health.
But just what is blood pressure, and what determines whether or not you may have hypertension? Blood pressure refers to the measurement of pressure that the heart uses each time it pumps blood into the body through the arteries. There are two components to a pressure reading: the systolic pressure is a measurement of the heart’s peak pressure and the diastolic pressure reflects the pressure when your heart is at rest. Blood pressure is measured as millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and given as a ratio of the two numbers, with systolic coming first.
For an adult, a normal blood pressure is 120(systolic) over 80 (diastolic), noted as 120/80 mmHg. Doctors typically divide hypertension into four levels: borderline (120-150/90-94 mmHg); mild (140-180/105-114 mmHg); moderate (140–180/105–114 mmHg); and severe (160+/115+mmHg). A person’s risk for hypertension-related diseases dramatically increases as his or her blood pressure increases.
Risk factors for hypertension
Studies have identified these as the leading risk factors for hypertension:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Diets high in salt or saturated fats
- Diets low in fiber and high in sugar
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Kidney disease
Having high blood pressure doesn’t have to be a permanent condition. In fact, of the 67 million Americans who have high blood pressure, 80 percent fall into the borderline and moderate groups. That means there are steps these individuals can take to help control their blood pressure and decrease their risk for hypertension-related diseases. The remaining 20 percent have high blood pressure due to underlying factors that may not be able to be changed.
Health risks of hypertension
Hypertension is associated with substantially increased risks for cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke. Many health professionals refer to hypertension as the “silent killer” because it usually causes no symptoms. As a result, it’s typically only diagnosed during a health exam when blood pressure readings are taken.
If you’re obese, losing weight can play a critical role in lowering your blood pressure and helping you lead a healthier life. Find out about medical weight loss options that can help you start your journey toward better health.