In the midst of the outbreak and concerns over COVID-19, another condition that afflicts nearly half of all Americans has come into sharp focus: hypertension. Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension results when the long-term force of blood movement against your artery walls has become too high—so high, it can cause heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and other potentially fatal heart health problems, especially if left undetected and untreated over time.
It’s an increasingly common condition: According to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, fully 45 percent of Americans (108 million) have hypertension or are taking medication for the condition. Perhaps worse, only about one in four adults (25 percent) have actually managed their hypertension to the point where it’s considered under control.
Not identifying or managing your high blood pressure is particularly dangerous today, according to Jonathan Buck, MD, an internal medicine specialist with TriHealth. In his practice, Dr. Buck sees adult patients, aged 16 and older, to prevent, diagnose and manage acute and chronic illnesses.
“Long term or chronic hypertension can be a major problem,” Dr. Buck explains. “It goes beyond obvious concerns like a heart attack or stroke, which is what most people think about when they hear high blood pressure. Your kidneys can also take a pounding with hypertension, resulting in severe damage that may result in end-stage disease and dialysis. During the current pandemic we’re all facing, hypertension has been identified as a key underlying condition that can result in potentially life-threatening complications with Covid-19. It’s nothing to mess around with.”
Unfortunately, hypertension is a condition that can build slowly over time, without clear symptoms until it’s far too late. “By the time most patients are experiencing acute chest pain, vision disturbances, heavy breathing and dizziness, the problem is often well advanced,” says Dr. Buck.
Caught early, though, Dr. Buck says hypertension is extremely treatable. Maybe your symptoms are basic: you’re feeling a little stressed, fatigued. You don’t have as much energy as you’re used to having, and you get winded earlier.
“That’s when you should be seeing your doctor,” Dr. Buck advises, “ideally as part of your yearly check-up. If you are diagnosed with hypertension, there’s a wide range of medications and lifestyle changes that can help you bring it under control, but what’s most important is finding a combination of treatment that works best for you, personally.”
Even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms, it’s a good idea to assess your current lifestyle to identify any possible indicators that often lead to hypertension. If you rarely exercise or have a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, consume a high-salt diet or drink more than moderate amounts of alcohol, you could be at risk. Low-level fatigue, heightened anxiety, and more-frequent-than-usual headaches are also warning signs. But how can you combat a condition that often shows no symptoms, or such mild or non-specific symptoms that it’s easy to pass it off as something else?
“It’s all about routine care and prevention,” Dr. Buck explains. “Most people pay more attention to maintaining their cars—rotating the tires, checking the fluids, testing the systems—than they do their own health. By establishing a relationship with a primary care physician, you can start to form a total picture of your health, understanding the issues unique to you and identifying what you should be doing to address your specific concerns before they become a problem.”
In fact, preventative care visits with your doctor can head off a significant health issue well before it starts. “Ultimately, we’re looking to prevent hypertension or any condition from harming you long-term. In the event of a stroke or a heart attack, even if you survive, the impact can be severe—months of physical therapy, speech therapy, and medications—let alone the secondary issues that can crop up as you slowly recover,” Dr. Buck explains. “By establishing your baseline health through a full range of diagnostic testing and the simple connection of a one-on-one conversation with your primary care physician on a yearly basis, you are safeguarding not only your present health, but your future quality of life. So, now more than ever, go see your doctor—and start a consistent plan of preventative care.”