Dr. Escabi: Hypertension -- the silent killer
What do a sniper, a submarine, a tiger and the paparazzi all have in common? They hide and wait for that perfect moment to attack their prey — just like hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure.
But this isn’t a secret. The fact that high blood pressure takes a toll on health has been known for decades or — to be more precise — since 1896. Yet, we continue to struggle with it.
We don’t always pay attention to our blood pressure precisely because it is a silent killer. Usually, by the time we feel something it is too late. A lot of people argue they get headaches or feel kind of badly when their blood pressure is elevated. Then it becomes a question of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Pain and malaise (feeling bad) can increase blood pressure.
Other things that can increase blood pressure are lack of sleep, high fat and salt diet, excessive alcohol intake, caffeine, tobacco-smoking, cocaine, energy drinks and other stimulants, stress, obesity, sleep apnea, certain kidney problems and a number of other medical conditions, just to name a few.
But why is something we can’t feel so important? How is it dangerous? This is the where it gets scary. High blood pressure can damage organs connected or otherwise supplied by the circulation. Hypertension over time can increase the risk of heart attacks, congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation (a type of abnormal heart rhythm that can lead to other serious conditions); and we are still just talking about the heart.
When we venture out to the rest of the body to look at the effects of hypertension, the scary only gets scarier. Hypertension increases the risk of strokes from clots and bleeds. And even though the idea of dying from a stroke is frightening, the thought of surviving a stroke, but losing function of one’s body is even worse.
The kidneys are another big target. They are one of our body’s filters, eliminating waste as they make urine. They are fairly tough considering all the careful adjustments they are constantly making to our bodies to compensate for the harsh conditions we put them through; dehydration, anti-inflammatory ingestion, foods high in sodium, etc.
But if you put high pressure water through a sponge, water will go through, but the high pressure will start to break down the sponge eventually. When that happens to our kidneys, dialysis is the way to clean our bodies by connecting to a machine, sometimes for four hours several times a week.
I’m sorry if this entry seems like more doom and gloom than usual, but it is concerning and often times frustrating that usually most of these terrible scenarios caused by hypertension could be avoided by simple lifestyle change or even the help of medications in those where a healthy lifestyle is not enough.
Some things that could be done to decrease or control hypertension include weight loss, a low salt and low fat diet (less than 4g of sodium daily), regular exercise (150 minutes a week beyond however many hours you spend at work, no matter how active it is), drinking plenty of water (between 64 and 100 ounces daily, assuming there are no medical conditions that may limit this), eliminating tobacco products and avoiding excessive alcohol intake, among others.
Actor Jack Wild once said “My lifestyle had made me a walking time bomb”. So before you share in Mr. Black’s fate, go to the pharmacy or the hospital lobby, or a job health fair and have a blood pressure screening. Talk to your doctor about it. Don’t let this stealthy assailant get the drop on you.