"High blood pressure is a primary risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It may also damage your kidneys and eyes," said Dr. Gregory Giugliano, associate director, Cardiac Catheterization Lab and Research in the Baystate Heart and Vascular Program.
May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month and the focus of this year's observance is to increase awareness about the prevention and treatment of the life-threatening condition. One in every three Americans has high blood pressure, and many don't know that they already have it or are at risk to develop it.
Sara Michelucci, exercise physiologist in the Cardiac Rehab and Wellness Program at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, checks the blood pressure of patient Paul Theroux.
"High blood pressure is often called the 'silent killer' because by the time symptoms occur, serious health problems have already begun to develop. However, the condition is easily detected and can usually be treated successfully with medications once the diagnosis is made," said Dr. Giugliano.
According to Dr. Giugliano, a blood pressure reading of 120/80 is normal, and a reading greater than 140/90 is high. If your blood pressure is between these two, more monitoring is reasonable to identify if changes occur and when to initiate therapy.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, increases your chances of having a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and visual loss. Anyone can develop hypertension, and as you grow older, the likelihood of developing high blood pressure increases, especially if you are overweight, obese or have diabetes. Other risk factors include high cholesterol, physical inactivity, drinking too much alcohol and smoking.
These risk factors are modifiable and can be addressed with lifestyle changes and medications; however, "some risk factors such as age, ethnicity and family history of high blood pressure are uncontrollable," said Dr. Giugliano.
African-Americans are 33 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, compared to 25 percent of Caucasians, and are more likely to develop high blood pressure than any other racial or ethnic group. High blood pressure in African-Americans tends to be more common and more severe and happens at an earlier age than in white Americans. It is also a leading cause of death for people with type 2 diabetes and the major reason why African-Americans are eight times more likely to develop kidney failure than Caucasians, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, high blood pressure is a factor in 67 percent of heart attacks and 77 percent of strokes, and it precedes 74 percent of cases of heart failure.
"High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke because it puts unnecessary stress on blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken and deteriorate," said Dr. Carmel Armon, chief, Neurology Division, Baystate Medical Center.
A recent finding by the Centers for Disease Control notes that one of the biggest culprits of high blood pressure is the consumption of twice the recommended amount of salt daily. Americans are eating over 3,500 mg of salt a day when the recommended amount is 1,500 mg daily.
Both Drs. Armon and Giugliano noted that having your blood pressure checked on a regular basis is important, but it is only the first step.
"Taking action to protect your body from the dangers of high blood pressure by eating right and exercising is vital to better your health and well-being," said Dr. Armon.
Other ways to prevent and control high blood pressure are to maintain a healthy weight, reduce salt and sodium intake, drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, quit smoking, take medication as prescribed and talk with a healthcare professional about your individual risks.
If you do not have a primary care provider to check your blood pressure, many area pharmacies often offer free blood pressure clinics. For a physician referral, call Baystate Health Link at 794-2255. For more information on heart disease and stroke and their association with high blood pressure, visit www.baystatehealth.org and click on the Baystate Heart and Vascular Program and Neurosciences tabs under "Services."
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