Hypertension: Understanding a Silent Killer

Reviewed by Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN
Doctor checking blood pressure

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Chronically high blood pressure — or hypertension — can cause damage to your blood vessels and internal organs including your heart. Currently affecting nearly half of adults in the United States, hypertension has been called a silent threat because the condition itself has no symptoms. However, the effect on your body can be life-threatening over time. Engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors at all stages of life can help to decrease your risk.

What You Can Do about High Blood Pressure

The first thing you can do is visit your doctor for routine checkups. Even though high blood pressure rarely shows symptoms, the abnormal force of blood through the arteries, over time, can cause damage to your organs, including your heart, blood vessels and kidneys. Thus, chronic hypertension increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and other serious health issues.

Know your blood pressure and have it monitored. Regular physicals will determine if your blood pressure is within the healthy limits. A blood pressure of less than 120 over 80 is considered healthy. The top number, known as systolic pressure, often gets more attention when discussing the severity of high blood pressure. However, it’s important to keep both numbers in the healthy range. If necessary, your doctor will discuss treatment options and supportive health care. Meanwhile, a registered dietitian nutritionist can provide you with guidance on a healthy lifestyle to help lower your blood pressure.

Age and other Risk Factors

High blood pressure tends to increase with age. Additionally, non-Hispanic Black Americans also are at higher risk of developing pre-hypertension and hypertension than non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives. Social determinants of health and access may play a role.

However, anyone can be at risk, especially people with diabetes or those with overweight or obesity.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Reduce Risk of Hypertension

Focusing on lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of hypertension. Getting regular physical activity, limiting alcohol intake, avoiding tobacco and focusing on a healthful eating style are all ways to help reduce risk.

Individuals at risk of high blood pressure may be advised to follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet to lower their blood pressure. The DASH diet is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat and sodium. Studies show that the DASH diet can help lower your blood pressure.

Since most Americans are getting too much sodium from the foods they eat, it's important to learn ways to reduce it. Simply lowering sodium intake may have a significant impact on blood pressure and thus improve overall health.

Keeping up with regular health appointments is also important, especially if you have a chronic condition like diabetes. Remember that high blood pressure rarely shows symptoms, so following a healthy lifestyle can help to lower your risk.

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