High blood pressure is another name for “hypertension.” Informally, it’s also known as “the silent killer,” one of the most alarming descriptions given to a medical condition by the medical community.
“Just because the symptoms of high blood pressure are not apparent doesn’t mean it is not a serious condition,” says Olufunso Odunukan, MD, MPH, FACC, FSCAI, Interventional Cardiologist, Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Group (YRMG). “In fact, its lack of symptoms are exactly what can make hypertension so dangerous.”
During this episode of Healthy Conversations, Dr. Odunukan highlights the causes, signs and dangers of high blood pressure. He also explains what your blood pressure numbers mean and discusses treatments for the condition, including an upcoming therapy for refractory hypertension—uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Who is likely to have hypertension?
While many factors – weight, family history, diet and more – can contribute to high blood pressure, age is the most common reason for high blood pressure. According to recent figures from the American Heart Association, 75 percent of women and 67 percent of men between the ages of 65 – 74 have high blood pressure. After age 75, approximately 84 percent of women and men suffer from the condition.
What is high blood pressure?
The formal definition of “blood pressure” can sound a bit like a math equation: Blood pressure is a measurement of the force exerted against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood to your body.
When Dr. Odunukan explains high blood pressure to patients, he compares it to a water hose under pressure. He also explains that as people age their blood vessels become less elastic and the heart has to work harder to push blood through the vessels to the body’s organs.
“The organs – the brain, heart and kidneys – where the blood flow stops, take a pounding when your blood pressure increases,” says Dr. Odunukan. “The result can be significant damage to those organs and outcomes like stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.”
People with sustained, untreated high blood pressure may experience:
- Severe headaches
- Nose bleeds
- Fatigue or confusion
- Vision problems
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain
- Blood in the urine
“When people have these symptoms, it’s an indication that their blood pressure is extremely high,” Dr. Odunukan says. “They need to seek immediate treatment to avoid a catastrophic medical event, like a stroke.”
What do my blood pressure numbers mean?
Blood pressure consists of two numbers:
- Systolic – The top number indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when your heart beats.
- Diastolic – The bottom number measures the pressure against your artery walls while your heart is resting between beats.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. You’re considered to have high blood pressure when the systolic number is at or above 140 or the diastolic number is above 90.
Treating high blood pressure
“People in the pre-hypertensive phase don’t necessarily need medications,” Dr. Odunukan explains. “That is the time that lifestyle modifications – weight loss, dietary changes and increased physical activity – will have the greatest impact.”
Dr. Odunukan partners with his patients, encouraging them to adopt healthy habits proven to lower blood pressure, including:
- Exercising at least 30 minutes a day
- Getting to a healthy weight if you’re overweight (even losing ten pounds can significantly lower your risk for stroke)
- Avoiding high-cholesterol foods
- Lowering your sodium intake
- Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains
- Keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum
- Giving up smoking
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, it’s important to continue these healthy lifestyle strategies. Your physician may also prescribe medication to help lower your blood pressure. Today’s blood pressure medications are very targeted so your physician may recommend a combination of prescriptions to manage your condition.
Between appointments with your cardiologist or other healthcare provider, Dr. Odunukan recommends checking your blood pressure at your local pharmacy. If your numbers are good, keep taking your medications and continue your healthy lifestyle measures.
“It may take some time for you and your physician to find what works best for you,” Dr. Odunukan says. “Once you find it, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to remain on the medications.”
Get in touch
Dr. Odunukan specializes in non-surgical – or minimally invasive – treatments for valvular heart disease, coronary artery disease and peripheral arterial disease. He is located at the recently opened Outpatient Services Building West on the campus of YRMC West in Prescott:
1001 Willow Creek Road
Prescott, Arizona 86301