High blood pressure (also referred to as HBP or hypertension) is when your blood pressure, the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. It is often called a silent killer because people with hypertension can be asymptomatic (have no symptoms and not idea that they have it) for years and then have a fatal stroke or heart attack.

Other threats that uncontrolled blood pressure may cause are:

  • Vision loss
  • Kidney disease/kidney failure, which may require transplant or dialysis
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Heart failure

A general definition of hypertension is a systolic blood pressure of 130mm Hg or higher or a diastolic blood pressure of 90mm Hg or higher or both.

There are no symptoms of high blood pressure. This is why it is so dangerous. Damage can be done due to high blood pressure without someone knowing because they don’t feel it.

So what causes high blood pressure? Common hereditary and physical risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Family history: If your parents or other close blood relatives have high blood pressure, there’s an increased chance that you’ll get it, too.
  • Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to get high blood pressure. As we age, our blood vessels gradually lose some of their elastic quality, which can contribute to increased blood pressure.
  • Gender: Until age 64, men are more likely to get high blood pressure than women are. At 65 and older, women are more likely to get high blood pressure.
  • Race: African Americans tend to develop high blood pressure more often than people of any other racial background in the United States.
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD): HBP may occur as a result of kidney disease. And, having HBP may also may also cause further kidney damage.
  • Lack of physical activity: Not getting enough physical activity as part of your lifestyle increases your risk of getting high blood pressure.
  • A high-sodium/unhealthy diet: Good nutrition from a variety of sources is critical for your health. A diet that is too high in salt consumption, as well as calories, saturated and trans fat and sugar, carries an additional risk of high blood pressure.
  • Being overweight or obese: Carrying too much weight puts an extra strain on your heart and circulatory system that can cause serious health problems.
  • Drinking too much alcohol: Regular, heavy use of alcohol can cause can cause your blood pressure to increase.
  • Sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea may increase risk of developing HBP and is common in people with resistant hypertension.
  • High cholesterol: More than half of people with HBP also have high cholesterol.
  • Diabetes: Most people with diabetes also develop HBP.
  • Smoking and tobacco use: Using tobacco can cause your blood pressure to temporarily increase and can contribute to damaged arteries.
  • Stress: Stress may contribute to increased blood pressure.

While there is no cure for hypertension, there are medications available to treat it and improve quality of life which also reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. What else can you do?

  • Know your numbers and monitor your blood pressure
  • Follow a low sodium, well balanced diet with increased fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Get regular exercise
  • Manage stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Work with your doctor to keep your blood pressure within healthy ranges
  • Quit smoking if you smoke

Heart disease remains the No. 1 killer in the United States; however death rates have decreased due to earlier and better treatment of high blood pressure. Knowing what to do and getting the medical care you need is the first step.

Christie Mayer is a licensed renal dietitian with Davita Dialysis Center of Victoria.

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