Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital
High Blood Pressure: The Silent Killer
High Blood Pressure: The Silent Killer
By Dr. Sherry Hoang, Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
Do you know your blood pressure and how it's affecting you?
May is Blood Pressure Awareness Month. Knowing your blood pressure is critical for you and your provider to help lower your risk against this silent killer. But what is it and why is it important?
What is blood pressure, and when is it too high?
Blood pressure is a measurement of how much your heart and blood vessels must work to move blood through your body and how hard it presses against your arteries. Blood pressure is written as a fraction with systolic blood pressure (when the heart is pumping) over diastolic blood pressure (when the heart is resting).
High blood pressure pushes too hard against your artery walls, which can cause scarring and plaque. Unmanaged high blood pressure causes your heart to work harder. This increases your risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. It can also cause kidney disease and blindness. Typically, blood pressure below 130/80 mmHg may help prevent these problems. Your provider will also explain your ideal blood pressure, which is uniquely tailored to your medical history.
How do I know if my blood pressure is too high?
High blood pressure is often called a "silent killer" because it can seriously affect your health but typically shows no symptoms. Rarely, people may experience headaches, blurry vision, dizziness, chest pain or shortness of breath.
So how do you check? Through routine medical appointments with your Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital medical team, which can be scheduled online or by calling 708-202-2707.
You can also check your blood pressure at home, and Hines can provide a home blood pressure monitor. Video appointments are available to assist you with monitoring your blood pressure.
Improving your high blood pressure
If you're diagnosed with high blood pressure, specialty care can be provided to help you manage your condition through medication and lifestyle changes.
Blood pressure medications may be prescribed. Medications widens blood vessels, slow your heart rate, or remove excess salt and water from your arteries. Medications should be taken exactly as prescribed and routinely. Inconsistent use can cause blood pressure to fluctuate and put you at serious risk.
Medication is only one part of managing blood pressure and is not used for everyone. Lifestyle adjustments are often needed to help control high blood pressure, including:
- Eat a well-balanced, low sodium diet: Ask your doctor about the DASH eating plan, which encourages eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy, whole grains and foods high in fiber and low in fat. Sodium should be limited to 2,300 milligrams a day or based on your doctor's recommendation. Your doctor may also recommend a dietitian.
- Limit alcohol: Heavy drinking increases blood pressure. Generally, alcohol use should not exceed two drinks daily for men and one drink daily for women.
- Regular physical activity: Aerobic exercise, such as walking, yoga or swimming, at least four times a week for 30 to 45 minutes can help lower your blood pressure.
- Manage stress: Stress makes your heart work harder. By controlling stress, you can help your blood pressure. Hines has many mental health options available if needed, and VA provides multiple Whole Health resources for Veterans to help manage stress.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight makes you more likely to have high blood pressure. Proper diet and exercise can help reduce excess weight.
- Quit smoking: Smoking increases blood pressure and damages blood vessels. Talk to your provider if you need help quitting.
- Take your medications properly: Taking medications only as prescribed will limit the risk of side effects and improper management of your high blood pressure.
- Track your blood pressure: Knowing your blood pressure and where it should be is critical to reducing your risk. Regularly monitor your blood pressure as recommended by your physician. Veterans with a My HealtheVet account can record their blood pressure online through the Track Health feature.
Many Veterans don't realize their blood pressure is too high until severe conditions develop. If you are concerned about your blood pressure, talk to your doctor as soon as possible and avoid this silent killer.
Information for this article was provided by VA's Veterans Health Library and Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital medical staff.