High blood pressure is often nicknamed “the silent killer.”
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension is a lot more common than you think. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it affects 1 in 3 adults in America (about 75 million people) and only about half of them have it under control.
And given that hypertension often has no warning signs or symptoms it is important to actually be aware of your blood pressure and any risk factors for hypertension.
This high rate is often attributed to two major lifestyle factors: being overweight and an increasing lifespan.
What is blood pressure?
Your blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your circulatory system. High blood pressure is when the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is consistently too high, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Young adults, particularly men, lag behind middle-aged and older adults in awareness and treatment of high blood pressure, putting this population at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke, according to the AHA.
“People call it the silent killer because you don’t necessarily feel poorly, but in the background it’s causing increased pressure on your blood vessels, causing damage over time,” Nicole Weinberg, M.D., a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. This can lead to serious and potentially deadly health conditions.
Unaware of hypertension
It’s possible to have hypertension and have no idea. This is why it is crucial to know the risk factors for the condition and how they apply to you.
Some of these risk factors are something that can be done (modifiable) while others are not. Regardless, it’s important to be aware of these risk factors and discuss them with your doctor.
Here are the biggest modifiable risk factors to be aware of:
- Being overweight or obese: This is one of the biggest risk factors for hypertension, especially in younger people, says Marc Leavey, M.D., an internist at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center. That’s because excess body fat puts a strain on your heart, which can cause your blood pressure to rise, explains Dr. Weinberg. The good news is that losing weight (even just a little bit) can often lower your blood pressure, according to the AHA.
- Eating a diet high in sodium, calories, saturated fat, and sugar: According to the AHA, this type of diet can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. Adjusting your diet is often helpful in lowering your blood pressure. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your salt and sugar intake and aim to eat minimally processed foods whenever possible.
- Having too much alcohol on the regular: Regular heavy use of alcohol can cause your blood pressure to increase, according to the AHA.
- Not getting enough exercise: Not exercising often or at all increases your risk of high blood pressure, Dr. Weinberg says. AHA recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. It will do your blood pressure, and overall health, some serious good.
- Living with chronic stress: You may have heard that stress can raise your blood pressure temporarily, but Dr. Weinberg says that chronic stress is really something to worry about when it comes to your blood pressure. “A lot of time when people have stress, that elevates their blood pressure for that moment in time,” she says. “But if you stress all the time, that’s building up issues in your blood vessels.”
There are also risk factors that you can’t really do anything about. These are:
- A family history of high blood pressure: Unfortunately, if high blood pressure runs in your family, you’re at an increased risk of developing it, too. Obviously, you can’t help your genetics.
- Your age: Unfortunately the older you are, the higher your risk of developing high blood pressure. As you get older, your blood vessels become less elastic, which can increase your blood pressure, Dr. Weinberg explains. Clearly, you can’t help this factor, but you can take other blood pressure-friendly steps to help modify your risk.
- Your race: African American men and women are more likely to develop high blood pressure than people of any other race, according to the AHA.
- Your gender: Men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women until the age of 45, but women are more likely to have high blood pressure from 65 and up, according to the AHA. (From age 45 to 64, the risk is equal.