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Hypertension: Making Some Noise About the ‘Silent Killer’

By: Pio Poblete, M.D.

Most people who have hypertension don’t know it.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is when the pressure of the blood in your arteries rises to an unhealthy level. Left untreated, hypertension can lead to heart attacks or heart failure, strokes, aneurysms, and damage to your eyes and kidneys.

Even though hypertension is dangerous, most people experience no symptoms. They can be on the edge of a serious health episode and not still have a clue. That’s why hypertension is called “the silent killer.”

Are you at risk?

There are many factors that can put you at risk for hypertension:

  • Age. The older you are, the more your risk of high blood pressure grows.
  • Race. High blood pressure is widespread among blacks, and health complications from it tend to be more serious.
  • Family history. If you have close relatives with hypertension, you are more likely to get it.
  • Unhealthy weight. The more you weigh, the more the pressure you put on your artery walls and the higher your blood pressure.
  • Being a couch potato. People who are inactive tend to have a higher heart rate,  making your heart work harder and putting more pressure on your arteries.
  • Using tobacco. Whether you smoke, chew or are just around people who smoke (secondhand smoke), tobacco can cause your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure and straining your heart
  • Too much salt (sodium). Before you reach for the salt shaker, too much sodium in your diet causes fluid retention, leading to higher blood pressure.
  • Too much booze. Having more than three drinks in one sitting can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels, and long-term heavy drinking can cause heart damage.
  • Stress. High levels of stress raise your blood pressure. And if you cope with stress by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, you only make the problem worse..

Your Next Step

Even though hypertension usually has no symptoms, it can be easily detected. Have your blood pressure checked at your next doctor’s appointment.

If you are diagnosed with hypertension, you can work with your doctor to control it. Your doctor may prescribe medicine, but you will also need to make lifestyle changes to keep your blood pressure down to healthy levels:

  • Eating a healthier diet with less salt
  • Exercising regularly
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight

People who make lifestyle changes and get their blood pressure under control can often reduce their need for medicine, and sometimes even stop taking it.

If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked in the last year, now’s the time to contact your doctor. Don’t let the silent killer sneak up on you.

Dr. Pio Poblete is an MPCP partner and sees patients in the Columbia office. He received his medical degree from University of Virginia School of Medicine and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Limiting Sugars in Your Diet

A Q&A with Dr. Pio Poblete of MPCP’s Columbia office

Q: How much sugar do people typically consume?

A: On average, Americans get about 16% of their daily calories from added sugars, according to the Food & Drug Administration.

While many foods naturally contain sugar, a lot more sugar is added to processed foods. For example, a 12-ounce can of cola contains seven teaspoons of sugar, although you might not see that word on the label. Other names for added sugars include high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, molasses, honey, and sucrose.

Even foods that you wouldn’t think of as sweet have added sugar, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup is a preservative, giving packaged foods a longer shelf life, and it plays a role in color and texture.

Q: 16% added sugars sounds like a lot. Are we eating too much?

A: Faced with mounting evidence about sugar’s harms, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has recommended that people limit added sugars to a maximum of 10% of their total daily calories.

Q: If I want to reduce my sugar consumption from 16% to 10%, how much sugar is that?

A: On a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that equals 12 teaspoons of sugar.

Q: Is added sugar a health concern?

A: Added sugars probably have a greater impact on high blood pressure (hypertension) than does sodium, and fructose in particular may increase cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) risk. There’s evidence that added sugars, especially sugar-sweetened drinks, raise the risks of excess weight and obesity, as well as type 2 diabetes. And, of course, sugar is a major contributor to tooth decay.

Q: How can I reduce added sugar in my diet?

  1. Use these simple tips to consume less:
  • Drink water or other calorie-free drinks instead of sugary, non-diet sodas or sports drinks. That goes for blended coffee drinks, too.
  • When you drink fruit juice, make sure it’s 100 percent fruit juice — not juice drinks that have added sugar.
  • Choose breakfast cereals carefully. Although healthy breakfast cereals can contain added sugar to make them more appealing to children, skip the non-nutritious, sugary and frosted cereals.
  • Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, add fresh fruit (try bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots).
  • Opt for reduced-sugar varieties of syrups, jams, jellies and preserves. Use other condiments sparingly. Salad dressings and ketchup have added sugar.
  • Choose fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and other sweets.
  • Buy canned fruit packed in water or juice, not syrup.
  • When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
  • Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts such as almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
  • Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar. Try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in recipes (use equal amounts).

For a list of common foods and the amount of sugar they contain, see this article in Medical News Today.

Pio Poblete, M.D.Dr. Pio Poblete is an MPCP partner and practices in our Columbia office. He is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.