May is National High Blood Pressure Month, and it’s important to understand this health condition, and know how to protect yourself from what’s often called a “Silent Killer.”

Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure typically has no signs or symptoms, making it that much more dangerous. Unless treated, however, the consequences to your health can be serious.

High blood pressure typically has no signs or symptoms, which makes it that much more dangerous. In fact, it’s for that reason that hypertension is often called a “Silent Killer.”

African-Americans have a higher prevalence of hypertension and are more likely to develop it at a younger age, according to data from the American Heart Association, said Dr. Jennifer Nguyen, a cardiologist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

“While there are a variety of genetic, environmental, social and lifestyle factors that can put individuals at an increased risk of developing hypertension, there are ways to help prevent and manage hypertension successfully,” Dr. Nguyen said. “Getting one’s blood pressure checked regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating heart-healthy and low-sodium foods, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol consumption are lifestyle changes that can aid in the prevention of hypertension, stroke, heart disease and other cardiovascular-related health problems.”

What is high blood pressure?

When a nurse takes your blood pressure, he/she measures the force of blood that’s being pushed against the walls of your blood vessels. If your blood pressure is high, this means the pressure of blood flowing in your arteries is higher than desired. This causes your heart to work harder, which could eventually result in heart failure, stroke or a heart attack.

Ideally, normal blood pressure should be below 120/80 mm Hg.

According to the American Heart Association, the following risk factors increase your probability of developing high blood pressure:

—Physical inactivity

—Smoking and being exposed to secondhand


—Being obese or overweight

—A diet high in salt

—Drinking too much alcohol

—High cholesterol


“If you have high blood pressure, whatever you do, don’t ignore it,” Dr. Nguyen cautioned. “Hypertension is a health condition that can result in serious repercussions to your health. However, once diagnosed, it can be treated, which is why it should be monitored on a regular basis.”

Kaiser Permanente offers valuable information on the subject of African-Americans and heart disease, and how to best manage high blood pressure.