August 7, 2015 | by Michelle L. Matin MD

Most people determine if they have an illness or medical condition based on their symptoms. But what happens when there aren’t any outward symptoms or signs?

Beware the silent killer

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is called the “silent killer” for this reason—there are no symptoms letting you know something is wrong. Though one third of Americans have high blood pressure, about half don’t even know it. Without treatment, high blood pressure can lead to strokes, kidney damage and failure, heart attacks, heart disease and congestive heart failure, vision loss, memory loss, and erectile dysfunction.

Know and reduce the risk factors

While there are no clear symptoms to look for, there are several factors that can increase your risk of high blood pressure, including obesity, lack of exercise, high sodium intake, and high alcohol consumption. Your age and a family history of heart issues can also increase your likelihood of the disease.

Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce your risk of hypertension. First, have your blood pressure checked regularly. You can request a check at your doctor’s office, check it yourself at many pharmacies and stores, or purchase a blood pressure cuff and test yourself at home. Being able to monitor your numbers will help both you and your physician make the best, most informed health decisions. If you’re tech-savvy, there’s also an app available to help you track changes on your own and to share results with your doctor.

Other ways to reduce your risk

  • Lower your sodium/salt intake: Try reduced sodium options of your favorite snacks.
  • Get more active: Adults should get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week.
  • Opt for fruits and veggies: Rather than sweet and salty chips and cookies, try fruits and vegetables for a nutritious alternative.
  • Manage your stress and anxiety: Some tips can be found on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website.

How can your doctor help?

To increase patient awareness of high blood pressure and enhance patient care quality, The Polyclinic is participating in a national program with the American Heart Association and other medical groups called Measure Up Pressure Down. The program includes new guidelines and ongoing staff training related to taking and tracking blood pressure, checking blood pressure for hypertension patients at every visit, and new efforts to increase prevention, patient engagement and self-management.

If you have questions about your blood pressure or managing hypertension, talk with your Polyclinic primary care doctor.

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