“The number one killer in the world is 100 percent treatable." – Dr. Romsai Boonyasai, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
We all know our age. We know if we smoke cigarettes or not. Most of us have a decent sense of our weight. We know if we exercise or not… and if we eat well (generally). These are all major factors which determine our level of health and our likelihood to fall victim to illness and disease. One measurement many of us do not regularly monitor is our blood pressure, and those of us who have high blood pressure often do not take the steps necessary to improve it.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is referred to as the “silent killer” in the medical community because it typically has no warning signs or symptoms. It also happens to be the number one cause of death worldwide.
This week, I met with doctors and researchers attending the American Society of Hypertension's Annual Scientific Meeting in New York. The focus of this conference – unlike those on the topics of cancer, ALS, or Alzheimer’s disease – was squarely on how to motivate people to treat the disease, rather than on identifying ways to treat and cure it. This is because, unlike the aforementioned diseases, hypertension is 100 percent treatable.
The magnitude of the dangers of hypertension cannot be overstated. “High blood pressure is the number one killer in the world,” says Dr. Romsai Boonyasai, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “In the U.S., hypertension affects one out of every three people. It is the leading factor in strokes, kidney disease, heart failure, and heart attacks."
Knowledge is Power
It is critical for us to measure our blood pressure regularly, whether at home, with our doctor, or both. Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a cardiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, says, “More frequent blood pressure monitoring allows more opportunities to detect blood pressure that is higher than the desired range. That may trigger more intensive treatment of elevated blood pressure.” A study published by The Journal of American Medicine Association showed a marked reduction in hypertension for those who monitored it at home. The takeaway: if you haven’t checked your blood pressure in a while, please do so.
Treatments are Plentiful and They Work
Dr. Boonyasai says, "The amazing thing about hypertension is that it's 100 percent treatable. The trouble – unlike many illnesses – is not knowing the cures, but rather getting people to use the known cures, of which there are many." Dr. Boonyasai continues, “Treatments include blood pressure medication, diet, aerobic exercise, and weight loss, which are all scientifically proven.”
Dr. Michael Rakotz, Director of Chronic Disease Prevention for the American Medical Association provided me with a simple example related to diet. “Eating 1,000 mg less sodium a day, even if you can't get down to the recommended 2,300-2,400 mg a day, lowers blood pressure. A typical Chipotle burrito has all of your daily recommended sodium (salt), in one burrito!” Drs. Rakotz and Boonyasai spoke about the danger of eating processed food which tends to contain extremely high levels of sodium. Even those of us who cannot eliminate processed foods from our diet can still make a big difference by consuming less of it.
Exercise is another big contributor to controlling blood pressure. Dr. Rakotz says, “The risk of among sedentary women of developing hypertension is cut by 40 percent if they walk 40 minutes, four times a week. For sedentary men, the risk of heart attack or stroke can be reduced by 50 percent if they increase their regular activity level.”
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