Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is known as a silent killer. Your blood pressure could be dangerously high, and you wouldn't even know it.
High blood pressure over an extended period could have serious consequences such as a heart attack or stroke. Having your blood pressure checked is one way of detecting hypertension and one of the most important things you can do to preserve your good health.
Common risk factors for hypertension include:
■ Age. High blood pressure can occur at any age, but it is most prevalent among persons age 50 and over.
■ Smoking. If you're a smoker, you will probably get hypertension sooner or later. Tobacco raises your blood pressure while you are smoking, and also has a long-term effect, damaging your arteries and causing them to narrow, making the heart work harder. Secondhand smoke can have a similar effect.
■ Sedentary lifestyle. While you're taking your blood pressure, you may also want to check your pulse. If you exercise regularly and are reasonably fit, your resting heart rate should be in the 70s, 60s, or even lower. If you're not very active, your heart rate is likely to be in the 80s or higher, which is normal but not recommended over the long term since it puts more work on your heart and more pressure on your blood vessels.
■ Family history. If your grandmother died from heart failure and your grandfather died of a stroke, probably related to uncontrolled blood pressure, you may be at risk too because hypertension tends to run in families.
■ Too much salt. One reason that hypertension tends to run in families is the old nemesis—salt. Some individuals, and families, are salt sensitive; their bodies have an exaggerated reaction to sodium in the diet.
■ Weight fluctuations. Weight gain could be because the high-sodium foods cause cells to retain fluid, one sign of possible hypertension.
■ Diet. Even in persons who are salt sensitive, the amount of sodium in the diet may be less crucial than the balance of sodium and potassium. Potassium helps rid the body of excess sodium, and it also makes blood vessels more flexible. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) calls for five servings a day of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains and low-fat dairy products. If such foods rank low in your diet, you can count on developing hypertension at some time in your life.
Knowing your habits, both positive and negative, and your family history will give you a good idea of your risk for developing high blood pressure.