High blood pressure (hypertension)

ASK THE EXPERT

May 22, 2008|By Holly Selby

About one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, also called hypertension, according to the American Heart Association. But many are unaware they have the disease because it has no symptoms, says Dr. Brian H. Kahn, a cardiologist at the Heart Center at Overlea Personal Physicians. Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

As you get older, high blood pressure is very common. It is part of the aging process. Also, people who eat a lot of salts are more prone to high blood pressure, as well as African-Americans, and we don't know why.

There are rare conditions such as blockages in the kidney arteries that can cause it, but in 99 percent of cases, there is no known cause.

What are the symptoms?

Unfortunately, most people don't have symptoms -- that is why it is called the silent killer. Most people are unaware that they have it.

What are the complications of high blood pressure?

People with high blood pressure are at greater risk for strokes and heart attacks. Long-term high blood pressure can cause damage to the kidneys or eye problems.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

We just take a blood pressure reading with a blood pressure cuff. If the blood pressure is higher than 130 over 80, that is how it is defined.

What is the treatment for high blood pressure?

First, we try diet and exercise: Limit the salt in your diet, and exercise on a routine basis, and if you smoke, stop smoking. If that doesn't do it, there is a whole array of medications to treat high blood pressure.

What about preventive measures?

Stop smoking, exercise, limit the salt that you eat.

What do you tell patients if they are diagnosed with high blood pressure?

A lot of times, it is hard to accept that you have high blood pressure, especially if you are young. I tell people to start walking on a regular basis, stop smoking and stay on a low-salt diet. Then again, some people may need medication if their pressure is very high. It is important to discuss the medications to review the side effects they might have. There are different medications for different patients. ...

It is a lifelong thing, and they have to monitor their condition and make sure that it is under control.

Are there other steps to take?

I also encourage people to take their blood pressure every day. Sometimes people have high readings in my office that are stress-related. It is called "white-coat syndrome," and it is when people have higher readings in a doctor's office. At home, they may have lower readings.

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