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Nearly one in three American adults has high blood pressure (HBP). HBP, also known as hypertension, is a major contributor of stroke, which is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Seventy percent of strokes are caused by HBP and nearly 800,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year. HBP also increases the risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the country.
Of the 72 million adults in America with HBP, only 50 percent have it under control and many Americans aren’t able to identify stroke warning signs or risk factors. The month of May is National Blood Pressure Education Month as well as National Stroke Awareness Month and the connection between these health observances is significant.
“May is dedicated to raising awareness about high blood pressure and stroke prevention and it’s important for adults and senior citizens to educate themselves about the signs and risks of these deadly diseases,” says Touchstone Health HMO Chief Medical Officer Mitchell Strand, MD. “High blood pressure is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because many people are unaware they’re affected due to the lack of symptoms and awareness.”
Increased blood pressure can cause overstretching of the vessels, which can then rupture causing strokes and aneurysms. HBP can also create tiny tears that form scar tissue, which leads to blockage and buildup of plaque, cholesterol or blood cells reducing the flow of blood to organs and causing damage. With this damage to the arteries, the heart pumps harder and, over time, this increased effort may result in damage to the heart itself.
Individuals with a family history hypertension have an increased risk in developing the disease and the likelihood also increases in the elderly. In addition to HBP, other risk factors for stroke include diabetes, tobacco use, artery or heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol and excessive alcohol intake.
“Managing high blood pressure with lifestyle changes can be the key to lowering your risk of related health problems,” says Strand.
Healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent and manage HPB and reduce the risk of stroke. These include:
- Eat a balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins
- Reduce salt intake
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Increase physical activity
- Quit smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
The American Heart Association recommends getting a blood pressure screening at your annual physical examination or once every two years. It’s never too late to adapt healthy behaviors to prevent and manage the “silent killer.”