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10 Facts About High Blood Pressure

Mental Floss logo Mental Floss 16/4/2019 Michele Debczak
10 Facts About High Blood Pressure © iStock.com/stockvisual 10 Facts About High Blood Pressure

People with high blood pressure (hypertension) are at a greater risk for a host of medical issues, including heart failure and stroke. Despite the severe health threats it poses, high blood pressure often goes unnoticed or untreated by some who have it. From high blood pressure symptoms to what levels are considered normal, here are some facts about the condition.

1. High blood pressure symptoms are sometimes unnoticeable.

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood moving through the circulatory system. High blood pressure, a condition in which blood is putting too much force on arteries and organs, is often called the “silent killer.” It contributes to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, but only half of high blood pressure patients know they have it. In most cases, hypertension signs are difficult to detect, making it hard to diagnose and keep under control. Chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations are some of the most common hypertension signs in people who do show symptoms.

2. Anxiety causes some of the same symptoms as high blood pressure.

When it comes to managing high blood pressure symptoms, mental health is as important as physical health. Anxiety can lead to sudden spikes in blood pressure, and spikes that occur often enough can inflict serious damage on the heart and blood vessels the same way chronic high blood pressures does. Stress and anxiety also make people vulnerable to the top risk factors associated with chronic hypertension, such as smoking, excessive drinking, and overeating.

3. A normal blood pressure range is lower than it used to be.

If you haven’t had your blood pressure measured in a couple years, it’s time for a check-up: In November 2017, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association updated its normal blood pressure guidelines. The two components that make up blood pressure are systolic pressure—the pressure in blood vessels, represented by the top number in test results—and diastolic pressure, the pressure in the heart between beats represented by the bottom number. According to the old guidelines, the threshold for normal blood pressure was 140 systolic pressure and 90 diastolic pressure, or 140/90. The new guidelines lowered that marker to 130/80. Now that the normal blood pressure range has dropped, 14 percent more people could diagnosed with hypertension in the U.S.

4. "White-coat hypertension" is real.

Not every patient who exhibits hypertension signs in the doctor’s office has high blood pressure. “White-coat hypertension” occurs when patients get nervous in a medical setting, leading to a spike in blood pressure that doesn’t necessarily reflect their true health. But this type of hypertension should be taken seriously, even if it is a product of nerves. According to one study, people with white-coat hypertension have a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease than those with normal blood pressure levels. This may be because people with white-coat hypertension are more prone to anxiety.

5. People with high blood pressure should consume less than one teaspoon of salt per day.

One of the worst things to eat if you have hypertension is food that’s high in salt. Sodium, which makes up 40 percent of table salt (sodium chloride), promotes water retention in the body. More water means more blood volume, which puts added pressure on the heart and blood vessels. Medical experts recommend consuming no more than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day, or just over 1 teaspoon of salt. If you have high blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit at 1500 milligrams of sodium a day—equal to three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt.

6. Almost half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure ...

According to the American Heart Association, more than 100 million people in the U.S. have high blood pressure—that’s nearly half of American adults. The condition is so common that even if you don’t have it now, chances are you will develop it at some point in your life. The lifetime risk in the U.S. for hypertension in 90 percent.

7. ... and black Americans are most affected.

High blood pressure affects certain groups disproportionately. Black Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure than any other group in the country, and when they develop it, it’s usually more severe. Hypertension also affects black Americans earlier in life: Three in four black people in the U.S. will develop the condition by age 55. Health experts believe that the prevalence of high blood pressure is associated with the higher rates of obesity and diabetes among the black population.

8. A female hormone may protect against high blood pressure.

High blood pressure rates are pretty similar among men and women before middle age. But once women hit menopause, their chances of developing hypertension increase: 75 percent of postmenopausal in the U.S. have high blood pressure. This may have to do something with decreased levels of estrogen—a hormone that’s been shown to boost premenopausal women’s vascular health.

9. High blood pressure can be life-threatening ...

High blood pressure doesn’t kill people directly, but it can lead to some deadly complications. Hypertension adds potentially fatal stress to vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and brain. When you have high blood pressure, your risk of heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure, kidney disease, and even blindness all significantly go up.

10. ... but improved with medications and healthy living.

The best way to reduce your blood pressure is to change your lifestyle. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and eating too much salty food all increase your risk of developing hypertension, and doctors recommend avoiding these risk factors to keep blood pressure levels under control. Regular exercise and certain medications, like diuretics (to get rid of excess water in the body) and ACE inhibitors (which block an enzyme that tightens blood vessels), can also lower blood pressure.

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