Preventing a silent killer

November 1 is national Hypertension Day. Do you know how high/low your blood pressure is?

high blood pressure 88 (photo credit: )
high blood pressure 88
(photo credit: )
After lengthy treatment in an intensive care unit, a 36-year-old man diagnosed with fluid on the brain was told during recuperation that his blood pressure had skyrocketed to 260/150, way above the limit. This was the first time that he had his blood pressure measured. Totally unaware of monitoring blood pressure, he understood its importance only after undergoing such a devastating experience. A 45-year-old man recuperating from a heart attack had blood pressure measuring 220/120. When asked if he knew that his blood pressure was high, he said no because he had never felt ill from it. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is known as the "silent killer," since it has no symptoms, yet is a high-risk factor for such conditions as heart attack, stroke, kidney dysfunction, and vascular rupture. Hypertension is more dangerous when one has other risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, family history, or lack of exercise. Life in Israel is stressful, and anxiety can be a factor that increases blood pressure. About one million Israelis have hypertension, with nearly half of them unaware of the problem. Some of those who are aware of the problem do not go for treatment. To increase public awareness, the first national Hypertension Day will take place in cities throughout Israel on Tuesday, November 1. "Hypertension is a risk factor for severe illness and mortality that can be changed by suitable treatment and nutrition. Yet a large part of the population in Israel is unaware of the necessity to measure blood pressure and treat it properly," says Prof. Ehud Grossman, president of the Israeli Society of Hypertension (ISH) and the driving force behind the event. "Healthy people have to be aware of monitoring blood pressure as a key to maintaining good health," says Grossman, who heads the Department of Internal Medicine D at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. The Health Ministry, Magen David Adom (MDA), the Israeli Forum for the Prevention of Cardiac and Vascular Diseases, and all health funds have banded together to organize the day, aimed at all age groups. Various municipalities are allocating halls for MDA stations to measure blood pressure. Leading physicians, specialists in internal medicine, will explain the importance of monitoring blood pressure. Municipalities participating in the event include Petah Tikva, Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Beersheba, Netanya, Ramat Gan, Ra'anana, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. MDA volunteers staffing stations in malls will measure blood pressure, height and weight free of charge. People can have their blood pressure measured at all branches of health funds, regardless of which fund they belong to. Following this initial screening, people with results above their target values will be referred to their family physicians. Fliers with general recommendations on weight control, salt intake, exercise, and referral to a website with more information will be distributed. Experts set values at periodic intervals, based on the latest research, with a tendency in the past 20 years to lower the threshold. Results should not exceed 140/90. To drive that information home, a speed limit sign has been designed for Hypertension Day with "140/90" emblazoned in the center, and "More than this is already dangerous," written below. Grossman hopes that Hypertension Day will become an annual event, part of the national calendar of health days. The ISH has about 400 members, including internal medicine specialists, family physicians, nephrologists (kidney specialists), cardiologists, and endocrinologists. It provides grants for research and reviews the recent literature. The ISH holds conferences (the next one is on November 2) and other events to educate physicians on the latest developments in the area of hypertension. The family physician plays a key role in following up and explaining the treatment of hypertension. "Often the family physician will tell a patient that his or her blood pressure is OK without the patient's knowing the actual values. Family physicians are busy, and some may ignore slightly elevated blood pressure. So patients should ask the physician about their blood pressure, and sometimes decide to go to another physician for a different course of treatment," advises Grossman. Patients may have misgivings about taking long-term medications because of side effects but should realize that medication for blood pressure reduces the risk of serious illness and can prolong life, he says. For more details about the schedule and venues, contact Tali Dagan at (03) 530-2834.