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HERE'S the main reason hypertension is one foe you don’t want to face: “Generally, hypertension is asymptomatic, meaning it has no symptoms,” explains Danilo Kuizon, M.D., cardiologist and director of the Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig. ”What you will actually feel is the effect of hypertension on the organs of the body. Hypertension is a very common problem but, at the same time, [it is] the least understood.”
In essence, hypertension is the sustained elevation of blood pressure. “Blood pressure is considered normal if it is 120/80,” says Dr. Kuizon. Anything above that is no longer normal. And anything below that is still considered normal."
Quoting a World Health Organization report, Dr. Kuizon shows that 95% of people above the age of 55 are hypertensive, regardless of gender; in the Philippines, “that number is just as significant.” If left untreated, hypertension could lead to heart failure and coronary artery disease, and could even increase your risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack. Pay attention to these telling signs of the problem.
The Pain: Shortness of breath
Why: Experiencing shortness of breath after a 10K morning run doesn’t automatically mean you’re hypertensive. But if you find yourself having more gasping episodes than usual, your heart might be taking a beating.
This is because it has to work harder to counteract the elevated blood pressure that is rupturing your arteries. “Because of this the heart becomes bigger,” Dr. Kuizon reveals. “And the bigger it gets, the more likely it will fail.”
The Pain: Flushing of the face
Why: Don’t take this as an instant sign that you’re hypertensive – some women, like Jodi Sta. Maria, will instantly make you blush when you see them. But blushing can also be due to the narrowing of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body.
According to Dr. Kuizon, this “coarctation of the aorta” is a congenital problem, and that “because of this narrowing, there is an obstruction to the flow of the blood from the heart. The pressure before the obstruction is very high, while the pressure after the obstruction is normal.” The signs of high blood pressure manifest in your upper extremities. “You may feel fullness or a flushing in the face,” he warns. Such incidents aren’t to be brushed off.
The Pain: Dizziness, pain at the nape
Why: Dr. Kuizon gives us the real deal on this: “The stories that hypertension can produce headaches, or local pain in the nape, are not actually related to high blood pressure. It may be related, but it doesn’t cause it.”
Which means you may have dizziness, but not because of the high blood pressure. It may be that you’re dizzy and then you’ll have high blood pressure afterward. So, smarten up and monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis.
The Pain: Scanty urine stream
Why: “Much of the regulatory mechanism of blood pressure is actually based in the kidney,” Dr. Kuizon points out. “When the kidneys are retaining more fluid, [the situation will] create hypertension.”
According to the American Heart Association, if there’s excess sodium in the body and the kidney can’t eliminate it due to kidney disease, the body retains extra water. And when there’s more liquid in your blood, its volume increases. “When that happens, naturally, blood pressure will go up,” says Dr. Kuizon. “Anybody can experience this and there’s no physical manifestation. If you already have a failing kidney, then your urine will be scanty or sparse.” Keep in mind: Moderate your sodium intake.
JUST FIGHT IT: There are ways to combat hypertension. Consider these pointers part of your action plan
All in the Family
“Genetics plays a big role in hypertension,” Dr. Kuizon emphasizes. If someone in your family is hypertensive, your chances of being hypertensive are very high. Visit your M.D. regularly and have your blood pressure checked.
Quit the Sticks
If you’re in the habit of inhaling nicotine and darkening your lungs with tar, stop it. “Smoking can trigger spasms of the artery, which will increase the pressure of the blood flow, making your heart work harder,” says Dr. Kuizon.
Dr. Kuizon shares that “exercise, to some extent, does help prevent hypertension. But exercise alone won’t be enough because of what you’ve inherited.” Still, be on the safe side and stay in shape.
(Note: The article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Men's Health)