Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. That amounts to about 120 million American adults. Because high blood pressure is often asymptomatic, it’s known as the silent killer and contributed to about 700,000 deaths in America in 2021 alone.
Read on as board-certified family physician John Monroe, MD, and the Healthy Life Family Medicine team in Goodyear, Arizona, highlight the dangers of high blood pressure and the steps you can take to lower your blood pressure.
Understanding high blood pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it through your body. When this pressure exceeds normal levels over an extended period, it is called high blood pressure, although it’s important to note that there are several levels of high blood pressure.
Elevated blood pressure isn’t high enough to earn a diagnosis of hypertension, but it’s inching closer to the danger zone. It’s defined as:
If elevated blood pressure isn’t addressed, it can lead to stage 1 hypertension. This is defined as:
- Systolic: 130-139 mmHg
- Diastolic: 80-89 mmHg
Left untreated, stage 1 leads to stage 2 hypertension, where your readings may start as high as:
- Systolic: 140 mmHg or higher
- Diastolic: 90 mmHg or higher
You still may not feel any symptoms at this point.
Dangers of high blood pressure
Now that you’ve covered what constitutes high blood pressure, let’s talk about the dangers of high blood pressure — or any blood pressure reading higher than normal.
Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases
The biggest danger associated with high blood pressure is the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Over time, the continuous pressure can cause your arteries to become narrower and less elastic, leading to atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up and restricts blood flow.
Consistently high blood pressure puts immense strain on your arteries and your heart, increasing your risk of serious (and even fatal) conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
Damage to your vital organs
High blood pressure silently damages your internal organs, often without noticeable symptoms. Overworked blood vessels may weaken or rupture, causing damage to the kidneys, eyes, and brain.
Kidney damage can lead to chronic kidney disease or even kidney failure (and the need for dialysis), while damage to your eyes may result in vision problems or blindness. Hypertension is also a leading cause of vascular dementia, which affects cognitive function.
Sometimes, blood pressure can spike suddenly, leading to a hypertensive crisis. This is defined as systolic readings higher than 180 mmHg and diastolic readings higher than 120 mmHg
During a hypertensive emergency, blood pressure levels rise dangerously high, putting you at immediate risk of organ damage or even death. It requires urgent medical attention and may manifest as severe headaches, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, or confusion.
Impact on your mental health
The stress of managing a chronic condition can take a toll on your emotional well-being, leading to further health issues, such as anxiety, but the reverse is also true. Chronic, unmanaged anxiety can also increase your risk of hypertension.
Reducing your risks of complications
Fortunately, high blood pressure is preventable and manageable with lifestyle modifications and medication if needed. Here are some preventive measures you can take:
Maintain a balanced diet
Focus on a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, 100% whole grains, and lean proteins while limiting sodium, saturated fats, and processed foods. The DASH diet can help inform your dietary choices to lower blood pressure.
Engage in regular exercise, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, to maintain a healthy weight and promote cardiovascular health. Exercise, especially when you do it at least 30 minutes per day, can lower your blood pressure by as much as 8 mmHg.
Implement stress-reduction techniques on a daily basis. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, exercise, or hobbies help minimize stress’s impact on your blood pressure.
Limit alcohol and quit smoking
Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking can contribute to high blood pressure, so moderate (or avoid) alcohol intake and quit smoking.
Regular health check-ups
Attend routine check-ups at Healthy Life Family Medicine. Dr. Monroe monitors your blood pressure to identify any trends and help you make any changes necessary to safely lower your blood pressure. As a family practitioner, he can also help you manage underlying or comorbid conditions (like diabetes) that may contribute to or exacerbate hypertension.
Get help managing high blood pressure today
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure levels or if you’d like to learn more about managing hypertension, call our office or schedule an appointment online at Healthy Life Family Medicine.