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High blood pressure (hypertension) is widespread, affecting approximately 25% of the population.  If the condition remains untreated, it can lead to more serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

However, there are many myths about high blood pressure in the popular press.  So in the following paragraphs we’ll separate fiction from fact to provide you with a more accurate understanding of this common health problem.

Fiction: The lower your blood pressure, the better.

Fact: Low blood pressure can also lead to health problems.  It can cause dizziness or fainting, increasing your risk of falls, and (if it is severe), can even lead to shock and death.

Fiction: Young people do not need to have their blood pressure checked.

Fact: While young people are at lower risk, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advises that everyone have their blood pressure checked from the age of 18.

Fiction: High blood pressure always has symptoms.

Fact: This is not necessarily the case.  While some experience sweating, nervousness and sleep disturbances, approximately one in three adult Americans with high blood pressure have it and are not aware of it.  This is the reason hypertension is sometimes called “the silent killer”.

Fiction: Blood pressure is only high because you are at the doctor’s office.

Fact: Many people get nervous while at the doctor’s office, which can raise blood pressure levels.  However, repeated high readings should be an indication that it is not a situational condition.  Home blood pressure monitors are now easily obtainable.  So take your measurements at home a few times and then share the results with your doctor.

Fiction: If you have high cholesterol, you must have high blood pressure.

Fact: Although the risk factors for both are often the same (poor diet, lack of exercise, etc.), having one does not necessarily mean you have the other.  You should have both your blood pressure and cholesterol checked periodically to ensure that you do not have either.

Fiction: Women do not need to worry about getting high blood pressure.

Fact: Although middle-aged men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women, the numbers begin to even out after a woman reaches menopause.  In fact, African-American women over age 65 have the highest rate of high blood pressure.  Other women at higher risk are those with a history of the disease in their family, those who are on birth control pills, those who are pregnant, and those who are overweight.

Fiction: Over-the-counter medications are always safe for those with high blood pressure.

Fact: Decongestants can both interfere with blood pressure medications and raise blood pressure.  If you are looking for cold and flu remedies, ensure that they do not contain decongestants.

Fiction: Insulin injections cause high blood pressure.

Fact: It was once believed that people taking insulin were at greater risk of hardened arteries and high blood pressure, but this idea has since been disproved.

Fiction: As your blood pressure improves, it’s all right to stop taking your blood pressure medication.

Fact: It is never a good idea to stop taking your blood pressure medication until you have consulted with your doctor.  Suddenly stopping your medication can cause your blood pressure to spike suddenly, stressing the heart, causing an irregular heartbeat and increasing your risk of a heart attack.  It can also cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness and insomnia.  If you decide to discontinue taking your medication, do so slowly, and always under a doctor’s supervision.

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