By Gordon Cohen, MD. PhD
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is an extremely common condition. According to the American Heart Associate (AHA), over 80 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with this condition, many of whom have poor control over it. What's even more concerning is that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are over 13 million people in this country who have undiagnosed hypertension. Yet, most people with uncontrolled blood pressure have health insurance, see their providers on average twice a year, and still remain undiagnosed. Despite being so prevalent, the reason hypertension remains so poorly diagnosed and controlled is because it's silent. People can have high blood pressure for years and years without ever knowing it. Most of the time, there are no symptoms. However, when high blood pressure goes untreated, it can damage arteries and other organs throughout the body. Because of this, high blood pressure is known as "the silent killer."
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of the arteries of the body, and is divided into two phases. The "systolic" pressure is when the heart is contracting or squeezing. The "diastolic" phase is the pressure when the heart is relaxing. This number is typically reported as the systolic number over the diastolic number (the units are millimeters of mercury). For example, a normal blood pressure might be 112/68.
As you reach 20 years old, your physician will begin to measure your blood pressure during your annual physical exam. This is important as it allows your physician to understand what happens to your blood pressure as you age. It's important to realize that a single high blood pressure reading is not necessarily a reflection of hypertension. In fact, there's a well-recognized phenomenon called "white coat syndrome" where your blood pressure readings are high in a doctor's office just because of the anxiety associated with visiting your doctor. Hence it's important to check your own blood pressure at home on a regular basis and keep a record of it so that you can have an accurate representation.
How do you know if you have hypertension?
The unfortunate, and even scary fact, is that without actually checking your blood pressure, you probably won't know. It's exactly this reason that there are so many undiagnosed and untreated people in the U.S. There are numerous myths about hypertension but, in fact, these are nothing more than myths.
Mythical symptoms of hypertension include nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping, headaches, nose bleeds, seeing spots, facial flushing, dizziness.
These are not the symptoms of everyday hypertension. These symptoms can occur when someone is having a hypertensive crisis and is a medical urgency or emergency. Hypertension is a condition of chronically elevated blood pressure.
If you do have hypertension, it's likely that your physician will want to begin some sort of treatment program. Physicians will often prescribe medication and recommend lifestyle changes. However, in the vast majority of cases, a physician's office doesn't have the ability to implement a treatment program. The 20/20 LifeStyles program is designed to teach you the necessary lifestyle changes to cure your hypertension and, in most cases, be free of medication to control your blood pressure.