The World Health Organization has identified hypertension, or high blood pressure, as the leading cause of cardiovascular deaths in the world. It’s a surprising fact, but one in every three Americans has high blood pressure (hypertension) and another 30 percent have pre-hypertension – blood pressure numbers that are higher than normal, but not yet in the high blood pressure range. The American Heart Association estimates that the direct and indirect costs of high blood pressure to be $76.6 billion dollars annually. Hypertension is considered a chronic medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is consistently elevated, thus setting up a host of other medical conditions.
Hypertension can be a silent killer, and even a mild high blood pressure is associated with shortened life expectancy. People with hypertension can have no physical symptoms and can go untreated for a long time, during which the condition can quietly damage major organs in the body. Left untreated, hypertension can do damage to the heart, arteries, kidneys, eyes and even the brain. Generally, hypertension is detected during a screening from your health care professional. Hypertension causes increased pressure of blood flowing through your arteries, thus damaging the cells of the arteries’ inner lining, which can set up a chain of medical problems.
Because your heart pumps blood throughout your entire body, high blood pressure can really take a toll on your heart. Over time, if the blood pressure remains elevated, it can lead to heart failure. In addition, high blood pressure is directly linked to an increased risk for developing blockages in the blood vessels (arteries) that supply blood to the heart. This can cause chest pain and shortness of breath, and even result in a heart attack over time. The effects of high blood pressure, if left unchecked, can be fatal.
Although high blood pressure is more likely to occur as you get older, it is not necessarily associated with age alone. Environmental and lifestyle factors are largely responsible for developing high blood pressure. Obesity, sodium and fat consumption, lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption all contribute to the development of high blood pressure. The good news is that high blood pressure is manageable with lifestyle changes or the addition of medications. In addition, weight loss through a heart-healthy diet low in sugar and saturated fats, increasing exercise to at least five days a week, and quitting bad habits can all help reduce, or even eliminate, high blood pressure and extend life expectancy considerably.
It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly by your health care professional. They can tell you more about the lifestyle changes you need to make to maintain healthy blood pressure, or to decrease the risk from developing life-threatening illnesses from prolonged, undiagnosed high blood pressure.
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