Even when most adults feel fine, a third of them have a serious condition that could cause a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure. It’s known as high blood pressure or hypertension.
Most times, there are no symptoms, so people with high blood pressure think they’re perfectly healthy. But left untreated, it can lead to irreversible damage, or even death.
Here are five important things you should know.
1. There’s usually no single cause of hypertension.
Many people develop high blood pressure because of their lifestyle. Some things that can lead to hypertension:
- Being overweight
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Consuming too much salt
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being under a lot of stress
Other factors may include:
- Age: Most people experience increased blood pressure as they get older.
- Medication: A side effect or interaction of some drugs can lead to hypertension.
- Sleep disorders: Over time, conditions like sleep apnea can lead to your blood pressure increasing to compensate for the lack of oxygen getting to your body.
- Health issues: Strokes, kidney disease, blood vessel disorders and cardiovascular problems can all increase your risk for hypertension.
- Genetic mutations: Monogenic hypertension is a rare mutation that accounts for fewer than 5 percent of hypertension diagnoses; most are diagnosed at a young age, with little or no control over development of HTN.
- Genetic variants: There are thousands of genetic variations that can make a person predisposed to hypertension; about 30 percent of hypertension cases have an abnormal genetic variant from genes a person has inherited from their family.
For the majority of people with high blood pressure, it’s because of a combination of lifestyle choices and environmental factors.
2. Blood pressure guidelines recently changed.
For many years, a blood pressure reading of 140/90 was considered high. Now, new guidelines classify 130/80 as the point when blood pressure should be treated, so more people than before are being told they have hypertension.
The new guidelines lead to earlier intervention, but this doesn’t necessarily mean medications are started earlier. It means we are paying attention to your blood pressure sooner.
We can help treat your blood pressure early, usually through lifestyle modifications, medications and monitoring, to make sure you get to — and stay in — a healthy range.
3. Ignoring high blood pressure can have serious consequences.
For a lot of people who don’t have other health problems, they feel fine and think they do not need to treat high blood pressure.
But sometimes it just takes education on what untreated high blood pressure can do to you over time.
With high blood pressure, your heart is beating at a higher resistance, doing more work to pump the same amount of blood.
This can cause cardiac remodeling, a heart attack or a stroke. It could also lead to several small strokes over a period of time because your brain isn’t getting the constant blood supply it needs.
Untreated high blood pressure can cause the structure of your kidneys to change, leading to kidney failure.
When you have high blood pressure, your body tries to preserve the function of your organs. It can affect your blood vessels, eyes and hormone levels. Over the years, those changes are irreversible.
4. Hypertension usually requires long-term management.
If your doctor recommends some lifestyle changes to help lower your blood pressure, they are not short-term options. If your blood pressure improves, you have to continue to make good choices to keep it at a healthy level; otherwise, it will get worse again.
The same goes for medication. Some people start treatments on their own or think they can stop taking medication as soon as their blood pressure improves. But if your doctor prescribes medication to help your hypertension, it usually means it will need to be managed over a long period of time.
5. You should fully understand your treatment plan.
Your doctor can have knowledge of all the medications and risks in the world, but if you don’t understand what’s wrong or why you need to be on medication, you may not have a lot of success.
I don’t give up on people because they say they don’t want medications or are misinformed about the effects of them. A good patient-doctor relationship is about communication.
Many patients have several risk factors for heart disease or stoke, so looking at the whole picture is key when treating high blood pressure.
Lifestyle changes are huge, but your doctor should also consider your medications and their interactions, potential allergies, your overall health and history, treatment costs and follow-up care.
An individualized treatment plan and continuous monitoring are important to get your hypertension under control.
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