Detecting and treating high blood pressure

High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. Yet it is serious medical condition affecting 1 in 3 adult Americans and more than 40 percent of African-Americans.

It’s important to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. It is measured with an inflatable arm cuff and pressure gauge. These can be found at a doctor’s office and drugstores.

For adults, normal blood pressure is below 120/80. A pre-hypertensive blood pressure measures between 120 to 139/ 80 to 89. A hypertensive blood pressure measures 140/90 or higher.

“Blood pressure has to be high on two or more separate occasions when at the resting rate in order to be diagnosed as high blood pressure,” said Dr. Neha Shah, a family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group.

According to the American Heart Association, starting at the age of 20, a blood pressure screening should take place at each doctor’s visit or at least every two years if you do not have high blood pressure.

If you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, blood pressure readings should be monitored closely on a regular basis.

High blood pressure has many risk factors. They include:
Age – As a person ages, the risk of high blood pressure increases.
Race – High blood pressure is most common among African-Americans.
Gender – Men are more likely to have high blood pressure. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure following menopause.
Genetics – High blood pressure often runs in families.

High blood pressure cannot be cured. However some of its risk factors can be controlled and managed. Shah said in order to control blood pressure, a person can implement a better diet, which may include limiting salt intake and participating in regular exercise. You should also maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol consumption, avoid smoking and manage stress.

If lifestyle and environment changes cannot control high blood pressure, one or more of the following types of medications can be prescribed by a physician to aid in treatment.

· A thiazide diuretic, also known as a water pill, is a medication that helps the kidneys eliminate sodium and water from the body, reducing blood volume and, therefore, reducing blood pressure. This is usually one of the first medications prescribed.

· Beta blockers reduce strain on the heart and open up blood vessels. This causes the heart to beat slower and with less force.

· Calcium channel blockers relax the muscles of the blood vessels and some can slow the heart rate.
If these medications don’t work, a physician may prescribe alpha blockers, alpha-beta blockers, central-acting agents, renin inhibitors or angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

Shah reiterated the best prescription for fighting the condition. “High blood pressure can be controlled by seeing your doctor regularly, watching your diet, exercising and taking your medication as prescribed,” she said.

This article was published in Volume 82, Number 42 (August 15, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, Texas.

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