American Society of Hypertension Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institutes of Health Nanette Wenger, MD; Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Emory School of Medicine; Chief of Cardiology, Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia
Cynthia Eugene: I didn't necessarily have any symptoms. I had just gone to the doctor for an annual physical.
Nanette Wenger, MD: It has no symptoms. The only way you know if your pressure is elevated is to have it measured by a health care professional.
Cynthia Eugene: I was kind of thrown initially.
Narrator: What Cynthia Eugene was thrown by was high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Nearly one in three adult Americans have it. Many don't know it. African Americans are especially at risk.
Nanette Wenger, MD: African Americans will develop it younger in life. Their blood pressure elevations are more severe, and they have many, many more of the devastating consequences of uncontrolled blood pressure.
Narrator: Consequences like heart failure, stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. Experts aren't quite sure why some people develop hypertension and others don't. It seems to run in families.
Nanette Wenger, MD: But it's very hard to say whether this is genetic—that you inherited it, or whether it's environmental, because families share habits.
Narrator: Habits like diet. Obesity is a major risk factor for hypertension. Increasingly, medical professionals like Dr. Wenger are encouraging patients to take on diets like the DASH diet.
Nanette Wenger, MD: It's a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and whole grains that has low fat dairy products and that is low in saturated fat.
Narrator: The goal is to take blood pressure down below 120 over 80. The first number is called the systolic reading and represents the pressure the heart generates when it beats.The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which measures the pressure in your vessels when the heart is at rest. A person is said to be hypertensive when those numbers rise to 140 over 90.At that point, doctors are likely to prescribe drugs to help get readings out of the danger zone.
: Door opening.
Narrator: Readings between ideal and hypertensive are called pre-hypertensive. Experts believe people in this category can gain considerable benefit from making lifestyle changeslike exercising, quitting smoking, and eating right—including limiting salt intake.
Cynthia Eugene: Now I'm more conscious of what I'm buying. I look at the labels. I look at the calories and sodium that's in the items that I'm purchasing.
Nanette Wenger, MD: Not everyone is sodium sensitive.Some individuals can eat reasonable amounts of salt without problem, but many people have a response to taking in sodium in the diet that will raise the blood pressure.
Narrator: Cynthia has made progress in her fight against the silent killer by taking her meds, having her blood pressure checked on a regular basis and pursuing a healthier lifestyle,which includes exercise and eating foods high in fiber, low in fat and rich in vitamins.
Nanette Wenger, MD: More and more we're beginning to realize that strict adherence to lifestyle can likely retard the onset of hypertension.