Hypertension commonly known as high blood pressure is a disease that affects approximately 1/2 of the US population (45%). It is a condition that despite being easily diagnosed, heavily researched, and having over one hundred medications developed to control this disease remains uncontrolled in about 60% (approximately 2 out of 3 people) that meet the criteria for the diagnosis.
This disease is called a silent killer and can be undetected for years or even decades while it causes damage to vital organs. Because of the silent or asymptomatic nature of this illness, it can only be detected with special equipment, especially in its early stages. Despite decades of education campaigns for the public this stealthy disorder continues to plague the American population and disproportionately affects the lives of minorities across the country.
This disorder is familiar to most people, who usually refer to it by the term pressure or high blood pressure. Unfortunately, less known is the damage it can cause when uncontrolled or that it can be asymptomatic for years while causing devastation to the body. Fortunately, the disease is easily detected and has several treatment options. Early detection and treatment can prevent or significantly slow down the damage. This requires being an advocate for your healthcare and understanding the danger of “I’m fine” when it comes to seeking screening for chronic disease.
So, what is hypertension? Hypertension or high blood pressure is a disease that leads to consistently increased pressure in the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the organs and tissues in the body. The stress of this increased pressure against the walls of the blood vessels over time leads to changes that can cause organs to malfunction. This damage to various organs is called “end organ damage” in the medical community. The organs that are most sensitive to long-standing uncontrolled high blood pressure are the heart, the kidneys, and the brain. In some people unfortunately the first sign of their blood pressure being high is when a vital organ stops working properly and they present to a healthcare clinician with kidney failure, heart failure, or a stroke.
The importance of screening and early detection of this disease can’t be understated. Of the 45% of the people in the US with hypertension it is estimated that 1 in 3 don’t know they have the disease. These are people that often report they are “fine” and use this as a reason to not seek healthcare. They are often busy with life’s obligations or pleasures not understanding that lack of action in the healthcare area can be an action in accelerating the effects of a silent disease. In its early stages hypertension is a disease you cannot feel. It doesn’t cause signs or symptoms that you or others can detect. While people commonly associate headaches with high blood pressure, people that develop headaches from high blood pressure typically have more advanced hypertension that may require hospitalization.