By Glenn Ellis
George Curry Media Columnist
Is all the talk about high blood pressure is really relevant? The unequivocal answer: Yes!
High blood pressure is called a “silent killer” because there are generally no advance symptoms, even when your blood pressure is high and uncontrolled. Unnoticed and untreated, high blood pressure can kill you. Often, the first sign of unknown or untreated high blood pressure is a stroke, a heart attack, or kidney disease.
Approximately 30 percent of the American adult population – 65 million – has high blood pressure. Estimates are that 90 percent of all American adults are at risk for elevated blood pressure during their lifetime. According to the American Heart Association, more than 40 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks have high blood pressure.
If you’re African American, there’s a good chance that you, a relative or an African American friend has the disease, which is also known as HBP or hypertension. Not only is HBP more severe in Blacks than Whites, it also develops earlier in life. It is partly attributable to overall rates of obesity and diabetes in African Americans, placing them at greater risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. Researchers have also found that there may be a gene that makes African-Americans much more salt sensitive. This gene is thought to increase the risk of developing HBP. In people who have this gene, as little as one extra gram (half a teaspoon) of salt could raise blood pressure as much as five points.
Awareness and management of blood pressure are two of our most important jobs as adults. Although many of us are aware of our blood pressure, the control rate in the U.S. is dismally poor. It was estimated in 2010 that only 46 percent of all adults who knew they had high blood pressure and were taking blood pressure medicines had a well-controlled blood pressure. People with high blood pressure can feel fine for years before symptoms arise – that’s why it’s called the silent killer.
Make sure you monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis and take those numbers with you to your health care provider. High blood pressure, or hypertension as it is also known, increases the risk of heart attacks and stokes. Hypertension also increases the risk of kidney failure.
In fact, high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney failure. This is because high blood pressure makes the heart work harder and, over time, can damage blood vessels throughout the body. If the blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged, they may stop removing wastes and extra fluid from the body. The extra fluid in the blood vessels may then raise blood pressure even more. It’s a dangerous cycle. Every year, high blood pressure causes more than 25,000 new cases of kidney failure in the United States. As many of you, unfortunately already know, dialysis becomes necessary when the waste products in the body become so high that they start to become sick from them.
In case that’s not enough of a wakeup call, uncontrolled blood pressure, leads to an increased stroke risk that is three times larger for African Americans than Whites, accounting for a 300 percent increased risk of stroke for African Americans aged 45 to 64.
So, when was the last time you had your blood pressure checked? Were you told you have high blood pressure? Was it greater than 140/90? And if so, what does that mean? A lot of people are confused about which one of the numbers to watch? Both the top and bottom numbers are important to watch.
The top number is called systolic blood pressure – the pressure exerted by the heart when it squeezes to pump blood to the rest of the body. The bottom number, diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure in your vascular system (blood vessels) during the phase when the heart is resting. You want to make sure the heart only pumps as hard as it needs to pump to get blood out to your body, and you need to control the pressure exerted against the heart when it is trying to rest. Therefore, both numbers are important.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.)
Glenn Ellis, is a regular media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine.