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Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often referred to as the silent killer. People do not feel it for years until a serious problem occurs. While it’s a common condition, which affects roughly one in four Americans, if it is left untreated the condition can have serious ramifications and can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
Prasant Pandey, M.D., cardiologist at Coordinated Health, describes hypertension as “a pressure measure of fluid flow inside blood vessels and related to how tight or loose blood vessels are. It reflects the amount of work the heart has to do to pump blood through the body. When your blood pressure is high, your heart has to work harder.”
Normal blood pressure readings are 130/80 or lower. The top number (systolic) shows the pressure when your heart beats and the bottom number (diastolic) measures the pressure when your heart is at rest and and blood vessels relax.
Dr. Pandey stresses that having a single high blood pressure reading doesn’t lead to a diagnosis of hypertension. “We take a series of recordings over time and we try to take an average to get a diagnosis of high blood pressure,” he states.
It’s no surprise that a condition dubbed the silent killer is often symptom free until it is too late. “Sometimes people can have fatigue, headaches, vision changes, but those usually occur with highly elevated blood pressure,” says Dr. Pandey.
There are people who are at a higher risk for developing hypertension. They include those suffering from other medical conditions like diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, sleep apnea and obesity to name a few. In addition, high blood pressure can also be genetic.
You may have heard that stress causes high blood pressure. While Dr. Pandey says that chronic stress can cause high blood pressure it will not lead to hypertension in everyone. “High blood pressure can occur in stressful situations, but we go through stress all the time there is different types of stress. There are different types of stress. It generally should go away when the stressful situation resolves,” he says.
When it comes to hypertension, Dr. Pandey is a big believer in prevention. “To prevent hypertension it’s important to exercise regularly and keeping a diet low in salt can help. If you are overweight, losing weight should help. If that does not fix the problem then we need to consider medications,” he says.
He also says it’s important to know your blood pressure numbers. Though most people get their blood pressure checked each time they go to the doctors, Dr. Pandey says that those numbers may be high due to something known as white coat hypertension. “People may get a little nervous when they go to the doctors office so you should also have it checked at other places. It’s a good idea to have a blood pressure meter, one that goes around the upper arm is generally more accurate. You can also check it at a drug store. Just make sure to keep a log with all the readings and we will take an average of all the readings,”he says.