High blood pressure (hypertension) is a unique condition, because, unlike most health concerns, it usually has no identifying signs or symptoms. For this reason, high blood pressure is commonly referred to as the “silent killer” as it can lead to serious illness—and even death—if left untreated.
Here are four simple facts everyone should know:
Hypertension May Have No Noticeable Signs
While having a cold can make your nose stuffy and anemia may make you weak, high blood pressure can exist for years without any noticeable symptoms. It is often only when outward symptoms appear that a person has any inkling of a problem, by which time a serious complication may have already developed, including:
- Heart attack or stroke, which occurs when high blood pressure causes the hardening and thickening of the arteries
- Aneurysm, which occurs when increased blood pressure causes your blood vessels to weaken, bulge, and rupture
- Heart failure, which can occur when the persistent pressure causes your heart muscle to thicken, making it harder and harder to pump blood until it finally stops
High Blood Pressure Is Often Found Incidentally
Most people first discover they have high blood pressure during a routine visit to their doctor. At other times, it is diagnosed when a person comes in with symptoms of heart problem (chest pains, irregular heartbeat, breathlessness) which is either directly or indirectly associated with hypertension.
Another common time for diagnosis is during a woman’s first perinatal visit to an obstetrician. Since most new mothers tend to be young, regular visits to the doctor aren’t usually a priority, leading to an uncharacteristically high number of diagnoses in this group.
High Blood Pressure Can Manifest as Other Conditions
High blood pressure can cause problems outside of the circulatory system. In the end, any damage done to blood vessels can affect organs throughout the body. Among the possible manifestations:
- Kidney failure can occur as a result of the narrowing and weakening of blood vessels in the kidneys. When this happens, it makes it harder for the kidney to function properly, leading to shut down.
- Eye damage can occur when blood vessels in the eyes burst or bleed, leading to changes in vision or even blindness.
- Mental function can also change as a result of high blood pressure. Some people have memory loss, an inability to focus, or difficulty finding words.
Everyone Should Have Their Blood Pressure Checked
Because high blood pressure can exist silently for many years, it is important that everyone have their blood pressure checked on a regular basis. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Forces (USPSTF) currently endorses routine blood pressure screening for all adults over the age of 18.
If you’ve never had your blood pressure checked, make an appointment to see your doctor or visit a local walk-in clinic or pharmacy (some of which offer free blood pressure screening).