Contributed by: Rachana Arya
Hypertension is surrounded by myths and misunderstandings. You may hear all kinds of well-meaning advice from friends and family. Let’s sort through some common myths about high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension), so you can make health decisions based on the facts.
Myth #1: High blood pressure is not a big deal
Health care professionals agree: High blood pressure is certainly a serious issue. If left untreated, it can increase the risk of a range of health issues, including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, heart failure, angina, vision loss, sexual dysfunction, and peripheral artery disease. Regular monitoring is essential for detecting hypertension early and effectively controlling it.
Myth #2: The signs of high blood pressure are very obvious
This is far from true. High BP is often unaccompanied by symptoms — hence its nickname, “the silent killer.” The alarming thing about high blood pressure is that you might not even realize you have it until you suffer one of its effects, such as stroke. Many people have high blood pressure without realizing it for years. Regardless of whether you have symptoms or not, you cannot feel the damaging impact inside your arteries, heart, and other organs unless your blood pressure is dangerously high. Unfortunately, by that time, it is often very late.
Myth #3: As long as I don’t add too much table salt to my food, I can control my blood pressure
Cutting back on salt is a good step, however, it’s not just table salt you have to worry about. Up to 75 percent of the sodium we consume is hidden behind the labels in pre-packaged foods. Some of the most common sources of dietary sodium include:
- Bread and rolls
- Canned foods
- Tomato sauce
- Cheeseburgers and other sandwiches
- Snack foods, like potato chips
Myth #4: Drinking coffee can raise blood pressure
It generally doesn’t — but alcohol surely can. Because caffeine is a stimulant, you might think that regular caffeine consumption gets your blood pressure up; however, most research doesn’t show that to be the case. Alcohol, on the other hand, does have a considerable impact. Heavy and regular use of alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically, so it is important to limit alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
Myth #5: Hypertension is inevitable with age
Hypertension is more common among older people since our arteries naturally stiffen as we age. It is however not inevitable, and it is not a normal part of aging. However, young and middle-aged persons can have it, too. More and more research findings are now establishing that the condition can occur to any individual at any time. Children and teens may also have hypertension, possibly because of an increase in childhood obesity.
Myth #6: High blood pressure is only common in men
Given the stress levels and sedentary lifestyle these days of both men and women, both genders are equally prone to developing hypertension. Before the age of 50, hypertension is more common in men than women, but post-menopause, women are more at risk of high blood pressure and cardiac problems.
Myth #7: There’s nothing I can do to prevent high blood pressure if it runs in my family
Although hypertension does have a genetic component, however, it is not inevitable, even for those who may be genetically susceptible to it. Lifestyle changes, a healthy diet, a healthy weight, and regular exercise can reduce your risk. Likewise, stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation go a long way in the prevention and management of hypertension despite genetics.
Myth #8: If I’m on blood pressure medication, I don’t need to exercise or watch what I eat
There is absolutely no replacement for trying to adhere to a heart-healthy diet and exercise! It’s the single most important thing you can take to reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke. When your doctor prescribes blood pressure medication, it is because they believe these lifestyle measures are not enough to lower your blood pressure to a healthy level.
Myth #9: If my blood pressure comes down on medication, I can stop taking it
Absolutely not! Never stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor as skipping medicines can lead to irreversible organ damage. Hypertension is a chronic health condition that requires lifelong monitoring. If you stop taking your medications, then your blood pressure may shoot up again.
Myth #10: Hypertension is curable
There is currently no cure for hypertension. However, there are many ways to manage the health condition and reduce its impact. Making the following changes may help:
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Managing stress
- Quitting smoking
- Maintaining a moderate weight
- Taking medication regularly
Hypertension is both serious and common so it’s important to know your numbers and get frequent checks if your readings are high.