High blood pressure often runs silent and deep, stealthily building and cloaking its symptoms. As it continues along its insidious path, it can affect organ function and lead to serious and deadly consequences.
"It" is hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure within the artery walls. There are myriad causes of high blood pressure including genetic factors, hormonal imbalances, a high salt diet, obesity, sleep apnea and stress.
"It's been called the 'silent killer' for ages because hypertension does not seemingly have obvious symptoms in many cases," said Atul Chugh, MD, a cardiologist with Franciscan Physician Network Indiana Heart Physicians in Indianapolis. "The more reported symptoms are fatigue and throbbing headaches centered behind the eyes."
Who Is At Risk For Hypertension?
One in three adult Americans have hypertension. If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and atrial fibrillation. At high risk are those over the age of 65 with existing conditions such as diabetes or a family history of high blood pressure. Research has shown African-Americans also have a predisposition to develop hypertension.
What Blood Pressure Level Is Considered Hypertension?
Blood pressure categories in the new guidelines, according to the American Heart Association, are:
- Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg;
- Elevated: Top number (systolic) between 120-129 and bottom number (diastolic) less than 80;
- Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89;
- Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg;
- Hypertensive crisis: Top number over 180 and/or bottom number over 120, with patients needing prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems, or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.
How Is Hypertension Treated?
"With Stage 2 hypertensive patients, we rely on blood pressure medications from the time we identify a patient rather than Stage 1, which we can try lifestyle changes such as reduction in dietary sodium and weight loss," Dr. Chugh said.
Among the medications that are used to treat Stage 2 hypertension are diuretics, beta-blockers and alpha-blockers, calcium channel blocker and ACE inhibitors, which relax blood vessels as well as decrease blood volume, thereby lowering blood pressure and decreasing oxygen demand from the heart.
When Is High Blood Pressure An Emergency?
Patients who suspect they are experiencing a hypertensive crisis (blood pressure 180/120) should go immediately to the emergency room unless directed by their physician to do otherwise.
"If there is evidence of organ damage as a result of hypertension – which manifest with symptoms such as chest pain, headaches, stroke-like conditions and visual changes – that patient or their family should call 911 immediately," Dr. Chugh said. "That situation is quite dangerous and requires medical attention immediately."
Dr. Chugh emphasized that while hypertension can be treated effectively, patients should also do their part by making healthy lifestyle choices to keep their blood pressure within a normal range.
By Joe Stuteville
Media Relations Manager