What You Should Know About High Blood Pressure

Despite a new understanding of the largely preventable disease, deaths from the ‘silent killer’ are steadily climbing

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
5 min readSep 4, 2019

--

Photo: annebaek/Getty Images

HHigh blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because its first symptoms are typically serious: a heart attack or stroke. Deaths related to the disease, also called hypertension, are on the rise in the United States at a time when the scientific understanding of the condition — and the very definition of it — is changing dramatically.

Hypertension’s death rate, adjusted for age, increased by 45% from 1999 to 2017, a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finds. And total deaths from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes — for which hypertension is a significant risk factor — are rising as the population grows and ages. Collectively, these four so-called cardiometabolic diseases make up the single leading cause of preventable death in this country.

Between 1999 and 2011, advances in diagnosis and treatment contributed to a decline in death rates for cardiometabolic diseases. But they are no longer enough to combat the rise, the researchers say in the new study — arguing that the focus must now shift more to prevention. “Our findings make it clear that we are losing ground in the battle against cardiovascular disease,” says study leader Sadiya Khan, a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine and assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The root causes of high blood pressure, Khan says, are physical inactivity, poor diet, and the obesity epidemic — factors that feed off each other and which have become part of life as we know it in a world of desk jobs, extensive screen time, and junk food diets.

Redefining “high blood pressure”

With hypertension, blood pushes too hard against vessel walls. There are two measures:

Systolic pressure, the upper number, is the peak of blood pressure reached when the heart muscle contracts. It’s a measure of how hard the heart works. As arteries become hardened or constricted, the pressure increases and the heart struggles to nourish the body.

--

--

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB