May is High Blood Pressure and Stroke Awareness Month. Many people have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, for years without knowing it. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can injure or cause death if not treated. Most of the time, there are no symptoms, but when high blood pressure goes untreated, it damages arteries and vital organs throughout the body. That’s why high blood pressure is often called the “silent killer.” The American Heart Association in partnership with Bon Secours Virginia Health Systems put up seven high blood pressure awareness billboards in Norfolk and Portsmouth during the month of May to warn residents that they may be at risk and to get checked.
There are approximately 76 million, or one in three, Americans with high blood pressure. African-Americans have the highest rates of hypertension in the world and millions are unaware of the problem. According to the Virginia Department of Health, 25.7 percent of adults in Virginia reported having high blood pressure in 2009, and that rate has been steadily increasing.
Risk factors for developing high blood pressure include:
- Heredity (including race)
- Gender (male)
- Overweight or obesity
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
High blood pressure is a symptomless disease except in its most extreme cases known as hypertensive crisis. When BP readings rise to 180 or above for the systolic — top — number OR 110 or above for the diastolic — bottom — number, call for emergency medical treatment immediately. Individuals whose blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mm Hg (140 systolic or above OR 90 diastolic or above) often become patients treated for serious cardiovascular problems.
“High blood pressure is killing our communities, and we have the power to get it under control,” says Patricia Lane, High Blood Pressure Program Central Virginia Project Lead and Neuroscience Coordinator at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital. “People are having heart attacks, strokes and other major health issues because of uncontrolled blood pressure. High blood pressure, like obesity, is a risk factor that can be prevented or controlled. That’s why, through this program, we are empowering people with knowledge to be able to do something about it,” she says.
To learn ways to manage high blood pressure and reduce risk factors, visit www.heart.org/hbp.