High blood pressure or, hypertension, as it is also called, is a common diagnosis we hear about almost every day. It often doesn’t make you feel bad. Indeed, you will likely be unaware you have it. Because it may not make you feel bad, it is easy to ignore. If it is ignored, it can shorten your life by decades and can cause numerous serious illnesses. Hypertension is not something to ignore. 

What problems can hypertension or high blood pressure cause? High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease, strokes, heart failure, kidney disease and vision problems as well as other disease processes. The higher the blood pressure, the worse the problems it causes. High blood pressure affects different people differently. However, in general, if it is not treated, it can shorten one’s life by 10-20 years and make the last years you have unpleasant. High blood pressure should be treated. 

What is high blood pressure?  There are many medical causes of increased blood pressure; indeed, there are entire books written on the topic. However, in the simplest terms, the arteries that carry the blood from the heart to the body become smaller with hypertension. Because the heart is trying to pump the same amount of blood through a smaller space, the pressure inside the vessels increases.  The vessels can be damaged by the increased pressure. The organs that the vessels feed like the brain, kidneys, eyes, etc., can be hurt by the increased pressure. Eventually, untreated hypertension will cause disease in the vessels and the organs they feed. Hypertension is bad for the heart because it makes it harder for it to pump the blood around the body.  If you have blood pressures of 120-140/80-90 or anything higher for either number, you should start thinking about discussing blood pressure with your physician. If it is anything over 140/90 for either number, you should go to your doctor very soon. If you have what seems to you to be high blood pressure readings and feel dizzy or sick, you should seek medical care immediately. 

How do medications help hypertension?  There are many mechanisms or ways that blood pressure can be decreased by medications. Each general type of “blood pressure medicine” works in a different way. The bottom line goal, regardless of how they work, is to decrease blood pressure. They often do this by increasing the size and flexibility of arteries which decreases blood pressure.  Decreasing blood pressure makes it easier for the heart to do its job and decreases heart disease. They decrease pressure in blood vessels and organs and stop or slow the progression of diseases caused by hypertension.  Stated differently, treating hypertension will probably make you live longer. 

 If you discover or are told that you have hypertension, what should you do? Go to your doctor. Your medical care provider will likely treat you with a medication. If it helps your blood pressure and you don’t feel bad from the medication, excellent! If your blood pressure medication makes you feel poorly or you don’t like the side effects, go back to your primary care provider and tell her or him what the issues are. They can prescribe different blood pressure medications until one is found that works for you. 

In the bigger picture, your physician will likely suggest that you become as healthy in general as possible. Losing weight, exercising, avoiding tobacco and illicit drugs, decreasing stress and eating healthy foods can go a long way toward lowering blood pressure. 

Many people find that by becoming “healthy” they can avoid or stop taking blood pressure medications under the careful supervision of their physician. 

In summary, hypertension is one of the leading direct and indirect causes of death. By avoiding hypertension through following your physician’s advice and hopefully striving for a healthy life, you will likely live a longer and better life. Do not ignore the silent killer. 

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