High blood pressure is a silent killer stalking about one out of every three Americans. Nearly one-third don’t know it. It creeps up on its victims of all ages and backgrounds, giving few hints it’s on the prowl. Then it pounces in the form of a heart attack or a stroke, leaving its victims dead or debilitated.
That this silent killer can’t be caught and caged is one of the myths surrounding what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “America’s High Blood Pressure Burden.”
Here are seven more myths about the silent killer:
A new study funded by National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute stresses the important of controlling blood pressure in your 40s and 50s. A middle-aged hike ups heart attack and stroke odds by 30 percent. Using data from over 60,000 participants in the Cardiovascular Lifetime Risk Pooling Project, researchers found that maintaining or achieving normal blood pressure by age 55 resulted in the lowest lifetime risk.
“Our research suggests people can take preventive steps to keep their blood pressure low early on to reduce their chances of a heart attack or stroke,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, study co-author, chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University. “Maintaining a healthy diet, combined with exercise and weight control, can help reduce blood pressure levels and, consequently, your risk for cardiovascular disease in later life.”
Taking readings in both arms should be routine to make sure blood vessels in arms and legs haven’t narrowed, interfering with blood flow and encouraging a cardiovascular crisis. A new British study, published The Lancet, found that differences in systolic blood pressure (the top number) between arms could indicate vascular disease and increased risk of death.
Peripheral vascular disease (peripheral artery disease) develops from atherosclerosis, in which cholesterol and fats collect and form plaque on artery walls -- “hardening the arteries.” It happens slowly without notice, sometimes beginning in teen years. Early detection would allow for early intervention such as smoking cessation or lowering blood pressure, researchers suggested.
Men tend to develop high blood pressure at a younger age, but women catch up after menopause. Earlier, women face special risks if they take birth control pills and also during pregnancy, particularly if they’re overweight. Preeclampsia (high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy) is the leading cause of childbirth complications in the US. It can develop quickly but usually disappears after delivery.
Not everyone is salt sensitive, but no readily available test can say who is or isn’t. People with high blood pressure generally can benefit from decreasing their intake. Scientists, however, have long disagreed about salt restrictions. Just last summer, a controversial British study challenged the link between salt consumption and heart disease.
While low-salt diets lowered blood pressure, researchers found “no strong evidence” that salt consumption affected heart attack or premature death risks.
Not so, says the American Heart Association, but a family history of high blood pressure gives a heads-up to change your lifestyle before it’s too late. Here are some precautions to take right now:
Regular exercise and eating better are two easy and inexpensive ways of improving those blood pressure readings. Check out the DASH Diet, which the US National Institutes of Health developed to lower blood pressure without pills.
This heart-smart eating plan also helps you slim down, and cuts risk of many other diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Based on the Mediterranean diet, it’s healthy eating that can benefit everyone in the family.
The only way to know for sure if you have high blood pressure is to have it check regularly. Typically high blood pressure doesn’t have any warning signs until it reaches a dangerous or even life-threatening level. Signs of a sudden severe spike in pressure (hypertensive crisis) include:
These symptoms may mean that your pressure is so high that, without immediate treatment, you could be headed for a heart attack or stroke. If you have any of them, get immediate medical help before the “silent killer” strikes.
Get the information you need to improve your health and wellness on Healthline.com.
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