Why Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure is Called the ‘Silent Killer’

Amy Barczy

| 3 min read

Amy Barczy is a brand journalist at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and writes for AHealthierMichigan.org and MIBluesPerspectives.com. Prior to joining Blue Cross, she was a statewide news reporter for MLive.com. She has a decade of storytelling experience in local news media markets including Lansing, Grand Rapids, Holland, Ann Arbor and Port Huron.

Nearly half of all adults living in the United States have high blood pressure or are prescribed medication for it – however, less than 25% of individuals diagnosed with hypertension have it under control.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is considered the “silent killer” to health experts because it often does not have symptoms and can develop slowly over time. High blood pressure is more common as you age but it can occur in younger people as well. Please make sure you are following up with your regularly scheduled wellness visits for screening.
Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as it moves through your body. Health professionals consider your blood pressure to be elevated if it is between 120/80 mmHg and 129/80 mmHg and high when it is 130/80 mmHg and greater. A “normal” blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg.

Risk factors for hypertension

Hypertension can develop slowly over time as a result of a variety of factors. Some risk factors are outside of our control:
  • Age: Aging increases the risk of developing high blood pressure; approximately 9 out of 10 Americans will develop high blood pressure in their lifetime
  • Diabetes: As many as 6 out of 10 people diagnosed with diabetes also have high blood pressure
  • Family history of high blood pressure in close blood relatives, especially if your parents have high blood pressure
  • Race: Rates of high blood pressure are higher among Black people in the U.S.
Some risk factors for hypertension are inside of our control:
  1. Being overweight: Extra weight puts more stress on the heart and circulatory system, which increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
  2. Tobacco Use: Nicotine from smoking cigarettes increases blood pressure.
  3. Diet: Unhealthy diets that are high in sodium, calories, saturated and trans-fat, and sugar can increase blood pressure.
  4. Drinking too much alcohol: Heavy use of alcohol may cause heart problems as well as spikes in blood pressure.
  5. Sedentary lifestyle: Not being physically active enough increases the risk of high blood pressure.
  6. Stress: Chronic stress can affect blood pressure, especially if you try to mitigate stress with unhealthy behaviors like eating unhealthy foods, not being physically active, using tobacco products or over consuming alcohol.
  7. Sleep: Sleeping less than 7 hours per night is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.

Ways hypertension affects health

Hypertension is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke – which respectively are the first and fifth leading causes of death in the U.S.
Uncontrolled hypertension can increase the risk of a person developing conditions including:
  1. Heart failure
  2. Kidney disease
  3. Pregnancy complications
  4. Cognitive decline later in life
Over time, as high blood pressure puts more stress on the arteries, it can cause the lining of the arteries to become damaged. As blood carries fats from the food we eat through these arteries, the fats can start to collect on the damaged areas. This causes the arteries to become less elastic, limiting blood flow which can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
Additionally, a stress on a weakened artery from high blood pressure can cause part of the artery wall to bulge – which is called an aneurysm. When an aneurysm breaks, it can cause internal bleeding that could be life-threatening.

Learn more

Learn more about hypertension and ways to control, reduce and prevent uncontrolled high blood pressure in a community conversation. The American Heart Association and the GoRed for Women campaign will be hosting a virtual event at noon Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. Local experts will be featured in a panel discussion, and participants will be able to ask questions. The event is open to the public.

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