Think back to childhood. Remember filling up a water balloon with a hose or spigot? As water rushed into the balloon, the pressure increased. If you forgot to pay attention—POP! The stressed rubber would break without warning and water would splash everywhere.
This scenario is playing out in the blood vessels of adults across the globe.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over 50 percent of those with high blood pressure worldwide were not even aware of their condition. This statistic was true of poor and wealthy nations—including America.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in three American adults have high blood pressure. Another one in three are classified as having prehypertension, in which their blood pressure is in a borderline range. This means that 140 million American adults do not have their blood pressure under control.
When a person has diabetes, cancer, gout or arthritis, there are usually discernable symptoms. With high blood pressure, however, there are often none.
“There’s a common misconception that people with high blood pressure, also called HBP or hypertension, will experience symptoms such as nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping or facial flushing,” the American Heart Association reported. “The truth is that HBP is largely a symptomless condition. If you ignore your blood pressure because you think symptoms will alert you to the problem, you are taking a dangerous chance with your life.”
This is why high blood pressure is often called a silent killer.
Since untreated high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke—the first and third most common causes of death in the United States—it is important to fully understand this topic.
There are numerous causes of hypertension. Aside from a genetic predisposition, there are four primary ones.
Obesity: According to data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “more than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese. More than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese. More than 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity. About one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese. More than 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be obese.”
Inactivity: “People who are physically active tend to live longer and have lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. Physical activity can also help with weight control…” the CDC reported.
One reason this is significant is that only one in five American adults and three in 10 children and teenagers meet the minimum recommended requirement for physical activity. This is setting up a society that will be rife with high blood pressure and all the risks that come with it.
High blood sugar: Approximately 30 million American adults suffer from diabetes—a whopping 10 percent of the population! More alarming is that over 95 percent of those with diabetes suffer from the “self-inflicted” form of diabetes known as Type 2, or adult onset diabetes. This is concerning because diabetics are at a higher risk for hypertension.
Stress: The most common and detrimental variable impacting blood pressure is stress. Consider the following statistics collected by a website dedicated to improving office and workplace conditions:
This is the perfect storm of conditions for people to develop high blood pressure. Knowing this, is it really a surprise that two out of three American adults have high blood pressure or are heading toward having it?
To understand how to effectively treat high blood pressure, it is important to understand what blood pressure is and how it is measured. It is typically calculated by using two numbers in a basic ratio, such as 120/80. This ratio is commonly stated as such: “The doctor said my blood pressure was 120 over 80.”
What do these two numbers mean?
Think for a moment about the last time you took your own pulse. If you never have, touch your wrist beneath your thumb and move your finger around until you feel a beat similar to that of your heart. Every time your heart contracts, it creates pressure, which pushes blood through your circulatory system.
The moment your heart contracts is the time when the greatest amount of pressure is exerted on your arteries. The measurement for this is known as the systolic pressure and represents the first number in your blood pressure reading.
As your heart relaxes in between heartbeats and refills with blood, the pressure in your arteries drops. This is called diastolic pressure and represents the second number in your blood pressure reading.
According to the American Heart Association, resting blood pressure falls into the following categories:
Your blood pressure reading can change from minute to minute due to immediate factors such as stress, posture, caffeine intake, water intake, or simply falling asleep. Therefore, the best time to retrieve an accurate reading of it is before eating or drinking, and while you are at rest.
The main causes of high blood pressure—obesity, inactivity, high blood sugar, and stress—point directly to the solutions that one should employ to maintain a normal blood pressure level.
But what are some practical things you can do today to reduce your risk?
First, know where you stand. Since the symptoms of high blood pressure are hard to identify, if you think you are at risk, invest $40-$100 in a simple blood pressure monitor. These can be found at any local drug store or shopping supercenter.
If you are diabetic, stop burying your head in the sand and begin to limit your intake of sugar and carbohydrates.
Additionally, get active!
“You don’t need to spend hours in the gym every day to benefit from aerobic activity,” WebMD reported. “Simply adding moderate physical activities to your daily routine will help. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.”
Many physicians acknowledge that just this moderate amount of activity is as effective as taking a pharmaceutical to fix the problem.
Finally, assess how much weight you need to lose to lower your blood pressure.
According to Dr. Vincent Moloney, whose website bloodpressure-drs-practical-guide.com is dedicated to educating others about high blood pressure, “An analysis of controlled studies showed that an 11 lb. weight loss would lower blood pressure by 4.44 mm systolic and 3.57 mm diastolic.”
All in all, maintaining healthy blood pressure levels comes back to leading a healthy lifestyle: “Not only can healthy lifestyle habits prevent high blood pressure from occurring, but they can reverse prehypertension and help control existing high blood pressure or prevent complications and long-term problems associated with this condition, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease.”
By understanding the threat of high blood pressure and taking practical steps, you can avoid the threat of this silent killer.