Cardiac Specialist Answers Questions about Hypertension - the 'Silent Killer'

Monday, February 13, 2017 Heart Disease News
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Physician Discusses High Blood Pressure on during American Heart Month

KENILWORTH, N.J., Feb. 13, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- In the US, more than 75 million people are living with high blood pressure

as a result of hypertension. Known as the "silent killer," hypertension can persist for years without any noticeable symptoms, yet it's responsible for 1,100 deaths a day.  Making matters worse, only about half of those diagnosed with hypertension have their blood pressure adequately controlled.

February is American Heart Month, highlighting the importance for people of all ages to regularly monitor their blood pressure and understand the link between high blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

To help increase healthy heart awareness, Dr. George L. Bakris, MD and Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago Medicine, provides answers to important questions for individuals looking to learn more about controlling their blood pressure. The answers below are available on

1. What is a healthy blood pressure level?

A healthy blood pressure reading for a 40-year-old individual is 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). Systolic pressure (top number) is a measurement of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. Diastolic pressure (bottom number) is a measurement of pressure in the arteries just before the heart contracts. High blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure at rest of 140 mm Hg or more, a diastolic pressure at rest of 90 mm Hg or more, or both.

Our blood pressure changes all the time – it rises and falls throughout the day and changes throughout our lives. Just because your blood pressure is elevated for one reading doesn't mean you have hypertension. It's best to average the blood pressure readings several times in several different settings.

2. How do I know if I'm at risk?

While most people experience no symptoms of hypertension, some people may notice a pounding headache or a general sensation of not feeling well.

High blood pressure becomes much more common as we get older, affecting about two in three Americans over the age of 65. And even if a person has normal blood pressure at age 55, he or she still has a 90 percent chance of developing hypertension if they live to age 80. In addition to age, a strong family history of hypertension increases your risk of developing elevated blood pressures in your 30s and 40s. Other risk factors for hypertension are obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, excess alcohol use, stress and a high salt diet.

3. How should I test my blood pressure?

An accurate reading is the first step in determining if your blood pressure is under control. You can check your blood pressure at home using a reliable testing machine and maintaining the appropriate position. Sit with your legs uncrossed and your back fully supported and rest for five minutes. Then roll up your sleeve and rest your arm on a table or arm rest. Use a cuff that wraps around the arm once, then two-thirds of the way again. Ideally the room should be silent and you should not be talking, listening to music or watching TV. An average person's blood pressure is actually highest early in the morning when waking up, so that is the best time to test.

For some people, simply walking into a doctor's office is enough to create a spike in blood pressure. This disorder, often dubbed "white coat hypertension," can be dangerous if it leads to overtreatment in patients whose blood pressure is not elevated outside of the doctor's office.

4. How can I control my blood pressure?

Getting a handle on hypertension is easier said than done. There is some disagreement among physicians on what the ideal BP should be, so talk to your doctor about your case specifically.

Most doctors start treatment by encouraging lifestyle changes such as exercising more, eating more fruits and vegetables and reducing salt and alcohol intake. Additionally, sleep quality is very important. Make sure you're getting at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep a night and, if necessary, get screened for sleep apnea. If lifestyle changes aren't having an impact, your doctor may prescribe a medication or combination of medications.

If high blood pressure runs in your family or if you're over 40, don't wait for symptoms to appear – have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you've been diagnosed with hypertension, it's essential that you take your medications correctly and make the necessary lifestyle changes to keep your blood pressure under control. Remember: medications control and manage your blood pressure – they do not cure it.

About The Merck ManualsFirst published in 1899 as a small reference book for physicians and pharmacists, The Merck Manual grew in size and scope to become one of the world's most widely used comprehensive medical resources for professionals and consumers. As The Manual evolved, it continually expanded the reach and depth of its offerings to reflect the mission of providing the best medical information to a wide cross-section of users, including medical professionals and students, veterinarians and veterinary students, and consumers. In 2015, The Merck Manual kicked off Global Medical Knowledge 2020, a program to make the best current medical information accessible by up to three billion professionals and patients around the world by 2020. For access to thousands of medical topics with images, videos and a constantly expanding set of resources, visit and connect with us on social media:

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About MerckFor over a century, Merck has been a global health care leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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