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Hypertension: The Silent Killer

Male nurse checks woman's blood pressureHypertension or high blood pressure is a serious medical condition that affects 1 in 3 adults in the United States. It is known as the "silent killer." Hypertension can be present for years without a person knowing it. Silently, damage can occur to the heart, blood vessels, kidneys and other parts of the body. This damage can lead to a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.

The Facts About Blood Pressure:

Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure that is placed on the arteries. As the heart pumps blood with oxygen and nutrients out to the body, it creates pressure in the arterial system like a pipeline. Arteries carry this oxygenated blood from the heart to other organs and areas in the body. As blood pressure rises the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the body's organs. This causes strain and damage to the heart and arteries.

Blood pressure is based on two readings. The top number (systolic reading) measures the pressure as the heart contracts or beats. The bottom number (diastolic reading) is the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes between beats. In general, a normal blood pressure is 120/80. However, blood pressure may change with stress or activity. High blood pressure (hypertension) is diagnosed when the top number (systolic blood pressure) is greater than or equal to 140 and the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) is greater than or equal to 90.

Assess Your Risk:

Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Family history of high blood pressure (mother, father, brother, or sister)

  • African American

  • Smoking

  • Diet high in salt, and fried foods

  • Overweight

  • Diabetes, heart or kidney disease

  • Increased stress

  • Greater than 2 alcoholic drinks/day

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • History of stroke or heart attack

Many people have hypertension and do not know it. For this reason it is often considered the silent killer. Take these steps to control blood pressure, prevent complications and lower your risk for heart disease. Work with your healthcare team in developing a healthy habits plan.

Blood Pressure Control Plan:

A good plan should include healthy eating and regular physical activity. Eat foods that are low in sodium. Skip the saltshaker and use spices instead. Do not eat foods that are high in fat and avoid fried foods. Bake, broil or grill foods and eat lean meats such as chicken or fish, whole grain cereals and breads, fresh fruits and vegetables. Learn how to read food labels. Healthy eating will reduce blood pressure and promote weight loss. Great fitness tips include walking, biking and swimming. Exercise for 30 minutes a day most days. Walk whenever you can. Through proper diet and exercise you will look and feel better and reduce stress. Also, quit smoking limit alcohol, and reduce caffeine intake.

Sometimes healthy habits are not enough to lower blood pressure. If that is the case, your health care provider may recommend medications to lower blood pressure. Often more than one medication may be needed. It is important to take all of your medications as prescribed and follow up with your health care provider regularly.

Do not let yourself become a victim of this silent killer. You can do this by making some simple changes in your life. Change your eating habits. Begin an exercise routine. Take your medicine as prescribed and you can control blood pressure and insure a healthier tomorrow.

Learn More

What is High Blood Pressure? (Veterans Health Library)

Vitals & Readings Track your own blood pressure. (Login required)


Created: April 30, 2009; updated April 27, 2016