Ward off 'the silent killer'

Hypertension is commonly referred to as “the silent killer” because it can go unnoticed for years. All too often, patients aren’t aware they have high blood pressure until their heart and arteries have been significantly damaged.

Hussein Hijazi, M.D., of Meritus Family Medicine, Williamsport, explains that there are different stages of hypertension and many factors that could contribute to a patient’s likelihood of being diagnosed.

What is hypertension?

“A brief time of high blood pressure is not concerning, as the body could be fighting an infection, but long term, if blood is not flowing correctly, it can lead to heart failure,” says Dr. Hijazi.

Elevated blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart. This can make the heart too weak to pump adequate blood supply to vital organs. Untreated, there could be organ damage or even vital organ failure.

Dr. Hijazi says patients might go for years without realizing they have high blood pressure as the body adapts and gets used to it.

Diagnosing hypertension.

Most everyone has had their blood pressure measured at one time or another. It’s a quick, easy and routine way for providers to make sure your blood and heart are working within normal ranges.

Typically, elevated blood pressure is a reading above 130/80, but Dr. Hijazi says one high blood pressure result doesn’t necessarily mean a patient has hypertension. Some patients experience “white coat hypertension” – a higher than normal blood pressure as a result of anxiety about seeing a physician. Patients with “masked hypertension” have great blood pressure readings in the doctor’s office, but elevated levels any other time.

Hypertension is usually diagnosed after consistent, elevated blood pressure readings over a course of time.

To diagnose a patient, Dr. Hijazi recommends regular screenings, especially for anyone older than age 18 or those considered at high risk for hypertension. High-risk populations include patients who are overweight or obese and African-Americans.

Treat hypertension with diet and exercise.

According to Dr. Hijazi, the sooner a patient can begin treatment, the sooner he/she can begin to get the condition under control.

Treatment for hypertension involves lifestyle changes including:

  1. Less salt consumption.
  1. A heart healthy diet such as the DASH diet, a Mediterranean diet or a vegetarian diet.
  2. A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise each day for five days each week.

Depending on the patient, risk factors and the severity of the hypertension, Dr. Hijazi may also prescribe blood pressure medication as part of the treatment plan.

The best medicine is a dose of prevention.

“The most important thing a patient can do to help prevent hypertension is to see his/her primary care physician for regular physical visits,” says Dr. Hijazi. “In most cases, high blood pressure is a preventable condition, so those diagnosed need to follow the treatment available before severe symptoms are experienced.”