Silent Killer?

February 25, 2020
Overall Health

Before the end of February, the National Heart Health Month, I thought it might help to write about one of major risk factors for heart disease, with a goal to spread awareness about this so called “Silent Killer” – Hypertension.
Hypertension affects 1 in 3 Americans and as per the World Health Organization, is one of the leading causes of death due to cardiac events and it is essential that it be monitored regularly. Below I have incorporated basic information that can help you understand, why regular screening at home and at your doctor’s office is mandatory, if you want to live a long and healthy life.

What is the definition of Hypertension?
An official diagnosis of Elevated or High Blood Pressure (BP) is termed as Hypertension. Hypertension that exists in the absence of an underlying condition example, pregnancy, kidney disorders or structural heart defects, is known as Primary Hypertension. And what exactly is it? It is a measure of the pressure of your blood against the walls of your arteries when your heart pumps blood into them. It is measured as you probably know, as 2 numbers: systolic and diastolic – i.e. When the heart is pumping versus resting in between beats. Measuring BP gives an insight into the overall functioning of your heart and circulatory system.

As with most organ systems of the human body, there is an optimal range or as I like to call it a “Goldilocks Range” for the blood pressure level. The American Heart Association reviews & updates this range periodically, as we adapt to different environmental conditions and the general shifts in population demographics. Minor fluctuations in blood pressure are common and can happen in response to day to day stressors, however, it is critical that BP returns to within its normal range and remains so for a person to be at a low risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. See the chart below from the American Heart Association for a quick look at the current optimal ranges.


Why is it known as the "Silent Killer"?

Hypertension is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ in the medical world, as many individuals, completely unaware of it prior to their diagnosis. It is ‘silent’ because symptoms may not always be present and when they do manifest, they may be occasional and mild, typically ignored and attributed to external factors for example, a stressful day, sinus congestion, dehydration, strenuous activity and such.
Elevated BP is often detected either when an individual without symptoms goes in for a routine visit at their doctor’s office or at the other extreme, when their symptoms are at the worst and they end up in the ER!

If it is silent, what can I do? How do I know when I need to be worried?
Though symptoms may not always correlate to elevated BP, presence of minor symptoms causing annoyance or discomfort warrants immediate monitoring, especially if one or more of the risk factors mentioned further below are present.
Being aware of your numbers and regular communication and check-ins with your doctors, can ensure early detection and appropriate management. And here’s the good news: Hypertension is preventable and in many cases, when detected early, can be stopped from getting worse! Hypertension has been classified as a lifestyle disease and can be successfully prevented and/or managed with the consistent implementation of dietary and lifestyle changes, with or without medication, depending on the complexity of the case.
The symptoms that you should watch out for:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizzy spells
  • Visual changes – blurry vision, floaters
  • Racing heart with mild activity or palpitations at rest and activity
  • Heavy sensation in chest or chest pain
  • Anxious feelings
  • Dark urine (may indicate blood in urine)
  • Ringing in the ears

Remember that these symptoms may be indicative of other diseases such as thyroid issues, diabetes and or hormone imbalances. If you are experiencing these on a frequent basis, it is critical to go in and see your doctor to rule out hypertension as the cause.

What are the risk factors that I need to be aware of?
The following risk factors can affect your blood pressure levels and  are categorized as modifiable versus non-modifiable.
You CANNOT alter the following risk factors, however, being aware them is critical in assessing your susceptibility to hypertension:

  • Family history – especially if either of your parents had hypertension, your risk is elevated
  • Age-  the older you are the more regularly you need to be screened.
  • Sex: Until the age of 64, men are at a higher risk whereas, beyond age 65, women are more likely to be diagnosed (Find out with us why!)
  • Race: Multiple studies have indicated that African-Americans are at higher risk

The following are factors that you CAN change to put odds in your favor to prevent/manage elevated blood pressure:

  • Eat Well.
  • The Mediterranean diet and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) have the most convincingly shown evidence to lowering blood pressure and improving all aspects of health related to the heart and circulatory system.
  • Keep Moving!!
  • There is no dearth of research and cardiologists who support the fact that regular, consistent exercise is required to maintain a strong heart and lower your BP. Brisk walking is the most commonly recommended form of exercise with patients who have sedentary habits. It is also recommended that you discuss your exercise program with your doctor before you begin to avoid further risks or injury.
  • Stop Smoking
  • Depriving your body of oxygen will only increase it’s need for higher blood pressure. If you need help quitting, work with a team of health professionals who can help you.
  • Decrease Alcohol Intake
  • More than 2 drinks per day for men and more than 1 drink per day for women have been shown to increase risks for hypertension and cardiovascular events in general. Again, if you need help, work with a team of health professionals to help you wean off.
  • Stress Management
  • Having an effective stress management technique for yourself, be it through spending quality time with loved ones, playing your favorite musical instrument or through meditation and breathing, is quite critical when it comes to keeping your BP under check. Online scrolling and playing digital games does not count!
  • Sleep Apnea
  • This is a major risk factor that often gets ignored even though it is very highly correlated with hypertension. Even if you do not snore or have no lack of energy, ask your doctor about conducting a sleep study for you, especially if you have family history of cardiac events.
  • Co-existing Conditions:
  • Diabetes, Obesity, Elevated cholesterol can all increase your risk of hypertension. The positive side is that lifestyle changes that help with treating hypertension, also help to address these & vice-versa.

In future blogs,I will discuss supplements to discuss with your healthcare practitioner, for both prevention and management of hypertension. Naturopathic medicine through the use of clinical nutrition and lifestyle medicine, can be a safe and effective  way to address hypertension, and related lifestyle diseases. If you would like to find out more, you are always welcome to request a free health consult on our website or by contacting our office via email or phone.
Until next time...this year, take that leap towards a healthier YOU!

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