(This information is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a doctor or a recommendation for any particular treatment plan. Like any printed material, it may become out of date over time. It is important that you rely on the advice of a doctor for your specific condition.)


Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a very common condition that affects 1 out of every 4 adults. Hypertension is also called the silent killer because it often has no symptoms and can cause serious diseases if it goes untreated for a long time.

Two numbers are used to describe blood pressure. The top number, called “systolic blood pressure,” measures blood pressure when the heart pumps. The second number is lower than the systolic pressure and measures blood pressure when the heart rests. It is known as “diastolic blood pressure.”

Blood pressure varies all the time. It is common for it to differ by 10 to 20 units when it is measured at different times, even minutes apart. For instance, exercise or emotional stress can increase the blood pressure. The increased blood pressure allows more blood to be pumped to the body to help the body cope with increased activity or stress. The body can tolerate such a temporary rise in blood pressure.

Recently, the guidelines for diagnosing hypertension have changed. A systolic blood pressure between 120 and 140 and/or a diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 90 is now considered to be pre-hypertension, meaning that these patients have a higher chance of developing hypertension. It has also been found that patients with pre-hypertension are at a higher risk of dying from heart attacks.

The exact causes of hypertension are not known. However, certain factors are associated with high blood pressure. People who smoke, are overweight, eat salt and fat regularly, drink excessively, are stressed, or are not physically active are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. People, who have a high level of cholesterol or have heart or kidney disease, are at a higher risk of developing hypertension.

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels all over the body. It can cause blood vessels to widen and become weaker. This can lead to abnormal widening of the blood vessels, which is called an “aneurysm.” Aneurysms can bleed and cause death, especially when they are located in the blood vessels of the brain or the aorta, the biggest blood vessel in the abdomen.

Over time, other blood vessels become narrower from the accumulation of cholesterol and other debris on the inside. The thickening of the muscles of the arteries from high blood pressure can also cause this narrowing. Narrow blood vessels restrict and may even block the flow of blood. When blood flow stops, the organs supplied by these blood vessels can be damaged or can die. The blockage of arteries in the brain can lead to a stroke. Strokes can lead to paralysis, speech problems, and even death. Blockage of blood vessels in the kidneys can lead to kidney failure, the inability of the kidney to remove poisons from the blood. This will lead to death unless patients are hooked up to a special machine 3 to 5 times a week, for four hours at a time, to clean their blood. This is known as dialysis.

Blockage of blood vessels in the eye can lead to impaired vision and even blindness. In the heart, such blockage leads to a heart attack, where the part of the heart that was supplied by the blocked artery dies. This weakens the heart and may even lead to death. The heart can also be affected in another way. It can get tired from pumping blood at such a high pressure. This is known as heart failure and can also result in breathing problems and death. Most of these risks of high blood pressure are more severe if the patient has other medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, or previous strokes or heart attacks.

Damage to blood vessels may take years to develop. During that time, patients suffering from hypertension, the silent killer, may have NO symptoms. Even though patients feel no symptoms in most cases when the blood pressure rises abnormally, a minority of patients with hypertension suffer from headaches or extreme fatigue.

Unfortunately, hypertension has no cure. It can be controlled, however. Controlling hypertension means a lifelong commitment to changing some eating and lifestyle habits. Your body needs only 1,500 milligrams or 1.5 grams, of sodium per day. Products containing baking soda, baking powder, and soy sauce usually have high levels of sodium. Canned food also has a high amount of salt. Eating less fat not only helps people lose weight and keep blood pressure normal, but it also helps prevent heart attacks and strokes not related to hypertension. Aerobic exercise helps people reduce blood pressure, as well as lose weight. It also helps improve heart performance and decreases the chances of heart attacks. Walking, bicycling, and swimming are all examples of aerobic exercise. However, muscle building is not an aerobic exercise.

Medications may also be necessary to bring high blood pressure back to normal. Regular checkups with the doctor are essential to determine the effectiveness of the medications.

(Source: U. S. National Library of Medicine - National Institute of Health)