Dear C.W.: There’s a common misconception that people with high blood pressure, also called hypertension, will experience symptoms such as headaches, nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping or facial flushing. The truth is that HBP is largely a symptomless condition. If you ignore your blood pressure because you think symptoms will alert you to the problem, you are taking a dangerous chance with your life. Everybody needs to know their blood pressure numbers, and everyone needs to prevent high blood pressure from developing.
The best evidence indicates that high blood pressure does not cause headaches except perhaps in the case of hypertensive crisis (systolic/top number higher than 180 OR diastolic/bottom number higher than 110).
Hypertension (also known as the ‘silent killer’) has been described as the most important public health problem in the U.S. In large population screening studies involving predominantly white people, close to 50% of screened people without symptoms had blood pressures greater than 140/90. An astonishing one in five people had pressures greater than 160/95. All told, over sixty million Americans have high blood pressure and more than a third are completely unaware of it!
All available data suggests that the numbers are much worse for African-Americans, particularly Black males. One indication of the magnitude of the problem is the epidemic of kidney failure that is sweeping through Black communities in urban America.
While diabetes is a major cause of the kidney failure in these communities, the problem is undoubtedly made worse by untreated hypertension. African-Americans also have disproportionately high levels of stroke and congestive heart failure, both of which are traceable to high blood pressure.
Studies have shown that blood pressure medications which help the body get rid of salt and water appear to work well in Black patients. While the reason for this is not known, what is clear is that some Black patients whose blood pressure has been hard to control have achieved significantly better control once a “water pill”, known medically as a diuretic, has been added.
If you are on blood pressure medications and your control has been poor, talk with your doctor about your diet, weight, exercise and stress levels and ask if a “water pill” is right for you.