Hypertension opens the door to disease

(Union Tribune) — High blood pressure or hypertension seems increasingly to be a part of American life. Or at least a part of many Americans’ lives. A March survey by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that more than 59 million Americans 18 and older – one-fifth of the total population – were diagnosed with hypertension. And that’s just folks with an actual diagnosis.

Youth is no protection. A study published late last month examining 14,000 men and women between 24 and 32 found that 19 percent had elevated blood pressure. Only half had ever been told by a health care provider that they had the condition.

We asked Dr. Lori Daniels, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at UCSD, to talk about what’s known about hypertension, how it’s treated and how to prevent it.

Q: Researchers keep uncovering new complications linked to hypertension, such as the finding a few years ago that high blood pressure may disrupt cognitive function in elderly people. High blood pressure appears to be much more than a cardiovascular condition. Can you comment? How else does it pose a health threat?

A: High blood pressure is certainly a risk to the heart, but it also places individuals at risk for other problems. Some of the most dreaded complications of high blood pressure are strokes. One way that high blood pressure can disrupt cognitive function is by causing strokes, which can sometimes be small and undetected, with the damage accumulating over time but visible on magnetic resonance imaging scans or on CT scans. High blood pressure can also cause problems in blood vessels throughout the body, and is a major risk factor for life-threatening tears and problems in the aorta, the major artery leaving the heart.


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