Dr. Austen headshotHypertension can silently wreak havoc, here's how to help avoid it

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is common enough that you’ve likely heard of it before, you have it, or you know someone who does. Michael Austen, MD, board-certified family physician at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, answers frequently asked questions that cover what it means, what to look for and what to do if you’re at risk.

What is hypertension and what causes it?

Hypertension is another way of saying “high blood pressure.” Blood pressure refers to the force of blood moving through the walls of your blood vessels.

Higher blood pressure can be caused by a number of factors, including poor diet, being overweight, too much salt intake, excessive alcohol use, smoking, significant stress, kidney issues, thyroid issues, sleep apnea, aging and genetics. Having hypertension can put you at risk for heart complications and events like heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.

Is high blood pressure genetically passed down?

The short answer is yes, it can run in families, but it can also happen to someone without a family history, too. If your parents or relatives have high blood pressure, you could be at risk, which is why it’s important to have routine check-ups.

What are the most common symptoms?

Depending on the person, it can present differently. However, people often complain of headaches, dizziness, chest pain, anxiety, blurry vision, lightheadedness and fatigue. It’s also possible to have no symptoms at all, which is why hypertension is often referred to as “the silent killer.”

How often should I have my blood pressure checked?

If you’re concerned about hypertension, I recommend checking your blood pressure twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. It’s important to check correctly, which means sitting with both feet flat on the floor, resting for five minutes, then using an upper arm blood pressure cuff. Take note of any symptoms you may be experiencing. You may want to consider implementing a healthier diet and lowering salt intake.

If you don’t have concerns, are at low risk and have no family history, then periodic blood pressure monitoring is fine.

How can I avoid developing hypertension?

You can lower your risk of developing high blood pressure by staying active, exercising and monitoring your weight. Implementing a healthier diet and lowering your salt intake is also important, coupled with getting enough sleep and controlling your stress levels. See your primary care physician annually for a physical check-up and blood-pressure test.