High blood pressure, or hypertension affects an estimated 116 million U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is known as a 'silent killer' because there's oftentimes no signs. While it's a common condition, it's a preventable leading cause of death. By taking on healthy lifestyle choices like not smoking, having a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and being physically active, you can cut your risk significantly. Ignoring high blood pressure can cause fatal and serious outcomes. Eric Stahl, MD Non-Invasive Cardiologist at Staten Island University Hospital tells us, "If left untreated, hypertension can cause heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, vision loss, and sexual dysfunction," so it's always recommended to monitor blood pressure and not skip routine visits with your physician. Although hypertension doesn't always give you warning signs, there are a few alarm bells to pay attention to. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share signs to be aware of. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
What to Know About Hypertension
Dr. Stahl says, "High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as blood pressure above 130/80. Approximately 47% of Americans have hypertension."
Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 20 years of direct patient care experience adds, "There is a myth that hypertension can cause outward signs of distress, including sweating, anxiety, headaches or flushing. Some people report that they can hear their pulse in their ears when blood pressure is high or that hypertension makes sleeping more difficult. Current evidence suggests that high blood pressure produces very few noticeable symptoms except during a hypertensive crisis when blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or higher. If you're aware that blood pressure is above normal range and are experiencing anything abnormal, such as headaches or nosebleeds, for more than a few minutes, contact 911 as soon as possible. The American Heart Association recommends that you never try to diagnose hypertension yourself. Instead, speak with a medical professional who can help you track your blood pressure trends. There is evidence that various symptoms may be associated with hypertension but are not always caused by high blood pressure."
Who is at Risk?
Dr. Stahl explains, "Everyone should have routine blood pressure screening. However, those with diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and a family history of hypertension should be screened more frequently due to their increased risk."
First Signal of Hypertension
Dr. Stahl says, "Those who have had a myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease or stroke should be screened for hypertension. These problems are the result of uncontrolled hypertension and unfortunately can be the first signal that hypertension is present."
Watch Out for Multiple Symptoms
According to Dr. Stahl, "People with hypertension often do not feel symptoms related to their hypertension. However, if they do have symptoms, they may have uncontrolled blood pressure. Headache, blurry vision, chest pain, shortness of breath, blood spots in the eyes, and facial flushing are all possible signs of high blood pressure and should warrant a blood pressure measurement and medical care."
Marchese shares, "A subconjunctival hemorrhage is a medical term for broken blood vessels in the eye, which can cause blood spots of general redness. This sign is typically more common in those with diabetes or circulatory disorders but also in some cases of hypertension. Over time, untreated high blood pressure can damage the optic nerve causing permanent damage to vision."
Marchese states, "High blood pressure does not cause dizziness, but lightheadedness or vertigo can be caused by certain blood pressure medications or poor circulatory issues. Over time, hypertension can weaken blood vessels and decrease blood flow to the brain and other vital tissue. When your brain receives less oxygen, you may feel fatigued, dizzy or confused. Dizziness is also a sign of stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain, a deadly condition caused by untreated hypertension."
Marchese tells us, "You may experience an irregular heartbeat or palpitations with high blood pressure. Palpitations may feel like your heart "skipped a beat" or as though you can feel your heart "in your throat." This symptom is associated with hypertensive crisis and could indicate an impending heart attack. Heart palpitations can also lead to blood clots and stroke because the heart can not effectively pump blood during a hypertensive crisis. Seek medical attention immediately if experiencing unexplained heart palpitations or abnormal chest pain."
Shortness of Breath
"As blood pressure increases in vital arteries, it can decrease oxygen transfer efficiency as the heart struggles to push blood through the lungs," Marchese explains. "High blood pressure in the vessels that connect the heart and lungs is known as pulmonary hypertension, which can cause shortness of breath. Pulmonary hypertension is a critical issue and can also cause fatigue, lightheadedness, chest pain, cough and edema."
Nausea and Vomiting
Marchese states, "Severe hypertension may cause nausea or vomiting in some cases, often as a secondary effect of dizziness. People on hypertension medication may experience nausea after missing a prescription dose, but it may not necessarily indicate that blood pressure is high. If you can, measure your blood pressure during or shortly after an episode of nausea and vomiting. The symptoms may indicate a hypertensive emergency if your blood pressure is above the normal range and remains there for several minutes. In this case, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible."