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Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Medical Minute: Not knowing you have high blood pressure could kill you.

With Dr. Andrew DeNazareth

Uncontrolled high blood pressure often is referred to as a “silent killer” since no symptoms may be noticed until a heart attack, stroke or other major medical problem occurs. Getting your blood pressure levels checked regularly and, if needed, taking the necessary steps to lower pressure, could help save your life. Blount Memorial board-certified cardiologist Dr. Andrew DeNazareth explains.

         “Blood pressure is the force of blood through the walls of our arteries and blood vessels,” De Nazareth says. “If the force is higher than normal, it can lead to excessive stretching of the arteries. This, in turn, could lead to damage in several vital organs including the heart, brain, eyes, kidneys and aorta, which is the big artery that leaves the heart and supplies blood to the organs and muscles.”

         DeNazareth explains that the damage related to high blood pressure could lead to heart attacks, heart failure, irregular heart rhythms and shortness of breath, as well as aortic aneurysms (weak bulging spots), stroke, vision loss and kidney failure, among other serious and potentially life-threatening conditions.

         He adds, “High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney failure in the United States today. In addition, high blood pressure can cause erectile dysfunction, as well as cramping pain in the legs when walking due to the damage done to blood vessels in the legs.”

         The only way to diagnose and treat high blood pressure is to know your numbers. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is diagnosed when you have repeated readings greater than 140/90 mm of mercury (unit of pressure). The top number refers to the pressure when the heart is contracting and the lower number is when the heart is at rest. Pre-hypertension is in the range of 120/80 mm to 140/90 mm.

         Home blood pressure-monitoring kits and those available for public use in pharmacies and fitness facilities can give you a general idea of your blood pressure levels. While these tools can be helpful between physician visits, it is important to have a health care professional check your pressure regularly to monitor any changes, interpret the results and recommend strategies to get high blood pressure under control.

         Adds DeNazareth, “Both lifestyle modifications and medications help treat high blood pressure. Lifestyle factors include reducing salt in the diet, regular physical activity, maintaining weight, avoiding tobacco use and limiting alcohol consumption. There are multiple categories of blood pressure medicines, and careful thought must go into choosing the right therapy for each individual.”

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