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Are You Under Pressure? 

Stopping ‘the Silent Killer’

Sometimes we can “feel” our blood rushing through our arteries, like after strenuous exercise or a sudden adrenaline rush, but most of the time we don’t—which means we also can have high blood pressure, or hypertension, without feeling it.

“It’s a big problem, because most people with high blood pressure don’t know they have it,” says Brent Patterson, MD, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Garland. Left untreated, hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.

Know Your Numbers

Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower. Most people find out they have hypertension when a routine screening reveals a systolic (top number) pressure of 140 or higher, or a diastolic (bottom number) pressure of 90 or higher.

“The systolic pressure indicates how hard the heart is working to pump blood throughout the body, and the diastolic pressure measures the elasticity of the blood vessels,” Dr. Patterson says. Over time, aging and wear and tear cause blood vessels to stiffen, increasing the heart’s workload, which causes hypertension.

Hypertension is a chronic problem, so catching and treating it early can prevent the complications, Dr. Patterson says. These days it’s easy to check your blood pressure between annual doctor visits, whether it’s at the grocery store or a community health fair.

When should you see a doctor?

If your blood pressure readings are consistently 140/90 or higher, or if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained severe headache
  • Sudden or gradual changes in vision
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Nausea associated with severe headache
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath upon exertion

How Low Can You Go?

According to Dr. Patterson, lifestyle changes are the preferred first step. “Take that salt shaker off the table, and don’t add salt to food when cooking.”

Other steps you can take:

  • Lose weight.
  • Do aerobic exercise for at least 40 minutes, three to five times a week.
  • Consume alcohol moderately (two drinks per day or fewer).

Finally, medications are quite effective at getting those numbers back in line. Your physician will prescribe the ones that are right for you.

What Hypertension Looks Like

Getting a picture of the heart can confirm the presence of long-standing or severe hypertension. At the Baylor Garland Heart and Vascular Center, noninvasive echocardiograms provide ultrasound images of the heart, heart valves and blood vessels.

Color Doppler technology tracks blood flow through the heart, “and with 2-D echo technology, you can see all the structures and motions of the heart in real time,” says Ron Norris, BS, RRT, manager of noninvasive cardiology.

The 2-D imaging can produce clear images of the heart’s left ventricle; left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), a thickening of the ventricle walls, is a classic sign of hypertension.

Help for Your Heart

No matter what your risk factors are, Baylor can help you take care of your heart. For a referral to a cardiologist on the Baylor Garland medical staff, call 1.800.4BAYLOR or search our online directory.