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9 Hypertension Myths We’ve All Believed For Far Too Long

 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over a billion of the world population suffers from hypertension, but many of these people have no idea they have the disease or knowingly neglect their condition, exposing themselves to the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other no less serious complications. In part, this is because many of us are misled to believe that high blood pressure is not a serious issue, or that only older people suffer from it. None of that is true.
In fact, reputable sources like the WHO and the American Heart Association (AHA) report that there are quite a lot of dangerous myths surrounding high blood pressure, myths that end up causing a great deal of harm to hypertension sufferers all across the globe. In this article, we dispel 9 such seriously misleading myths, so that we’re able to understand hypertension more and take better care of ourselves and our loved ones.

1. Hypertension isn’t a serious issue

Hypertension Myths measuring bp
Hypertension is one of the most common chronic irreversible health conditions in the US. According to the AHA, around 45% of Americans suffer from hypertension, which is nearly half of the overall population. At the same time, the severity and potential dangers of this health condition are grossly underestimated, and many consider high blood pressure to be no big deal. This is just not true, and in reality, high blood pressure can lead to many serious complications and even sudden death.
Over time, hypertension makes larger blood vessels less elastic, which impairs the oxygen supply to various organs, and can even make small blood vessels in the brain burst and become blocked. According to the WHO, high blood pressure can lead to the following health issues:
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat (this can lead to sudden death)
  • Chest pain, also known as angina
  • Stroke
  • Kidney damage.

Medical News Today further reports that hypertension can lead to vision loss, sexual dysfunction, and peripheral artery disease. Without a doubt, these dangerous factors make hypertension a very serious condition that requires treatment and lifestyle adjustments.

2. I don’t use salt in my food, so I’m managing my sodium levels

Hypertension Myths salt shaker

Managing your sodium intake is crucial when you have high blood pressure. Many people conflate sodium intake with the amount of salt you add to your foods, but in reality, reducing or eliminating the use of table salt in your diet is just part of the solution. As a matter of fact, the CDC established that processed foods account for at least 40% of our daily sodium intake, namely the following foods:

  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Bread
  • Eggs and omelets
  • Sandwich meat
  • Canned soup
  • Chips, pretzels, crackers, and other savory snacks
  • Tacos and burritos
  • Cheese.

Even sweet ultra-processed foods, such as chocolate, candy, breakfast cereals, and soft drinks are extremely high in salt. Therefore, looking at labels is key - search for the keywords “sodium”, “Na”, and “soda” on the ingredient label. Also understand that consuming added sea salt or kosher salt is the same as regular table salt, as all three of these have the same sodium content.

The WHO recommends cutting down your daily sodium intake to 5 grams a day, a small sacrifice to pay for your cardiovascular health. They state that doing so would prevent 2.5 million deaths every year.

Related Article: Everything New Scientists Learned About Hypertension in 2019

3. Hypertension is inevitable

Hypertension Myths older and younger woman holding hands
Another common misconception is the idea that high blood pressure cannot be prevented, especially in older age, and everyone is bound to get it. Although hypertension is more prevalent in older adults, it’s by no means a normal part of aging. Not all seniors and not only older people suffer from this condition: the condition affects 63.1% of people 60+ years old, 33.2% in the 40-59 age range, and 7.5% in the age range of 18-39.
In addition, many people also believe that they will surely have hypertension if the condition runs in the family. While it is certainly true that hypertension has a genetic component, research shows that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet can cancel out the genetic predisposition to high blood pressure.
According to a 2018 study looking at 277,005 patients concluded the following: “We show that adherence to a healthy lifestyle (including [healthful] diet, limited alcohol consumption, low urinary sodium excretion, low body mass index [BMI], and increased physical activity) is associated with lower blood pressure regardless of the underlying blood pressure genetic risk”. Therefore, though hypertension isn’t curable, it’s very much so preventable, no matter what your genetic risk or age is.

4. Only men suffer from high blood pressure

Hypertension Myths older man holding cane
As we’ve already established, lifestyle plays an incredibly important role in diminishing one’s risk of hypertension. Similarly, a poor diet, low activity levels, and being overweight can increase one’s risk of high blood pressure for both men and women.
In fact, in the age range of 45–64 years, men and women have a nearly identical risk of hypertension according to 2016 statistics. What’s more, after 64 years old, women have a higher risk of hypertension than men. The only age range in which men are more likely to develop hypertension is 45 years old and younger. 

5. You’re fine if only one of the measurements is off

Hypertension Myths woman measuring bp
You’re likely aware that blood pressure (bp) readings consist of two measurements - the top (systolic) blood pressure number and the second (diastolic) number. Systolic measurements show the pressure with which blood runs through the veins during a heartbeat, whereas the diastolic measurement reflects the blood pressure while your heart is resting.
Systolic blood pressure of 130 and above is considered high, as is diastolic pressure of 80 and greater.
Oftentimes, people pay more attention to the top number, as higher systolic bp is associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack in older adults. However, higher diastolic measurements are just as important as systolic ones, and you must seek treatment if you get any consistently high readings to prevent your organs from damage.

6. Low blood pressure isn’t an issue

Hypertension Myths doctor measures bp for a woman
Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is definitely less talked about than hypertension, but that doesn't mean that hypotension is benign. While many people have a naturally lower blood pressure than others, drops in blood pressure can be a concern, as it can cause dizziness, or make you faint or go into shock. The first two are a concern, especially for the elderly, as they often lead to a serious fall. Shock, on the other hand, is even more dangerous, as it can cause sudden death if not treated immediately.

7. Red wine is considered healthy for the heart, so I can safely indulge in it

Hypertension Myths red wine 2 glasses
Red wine is touted for its ability to benefit the body, and the incredible antioxidants present in red wine can really improve your digestion and help reduce the risk of degenerative diseases, including hypertension. However, that doesn't mean that you can drink as much red wine as you can. In fact, according to the most recent research, just 1 glass once in 2 weeks is enough to reap all the benefits of red wine, and having more than half a glass to a glass of red wine a day will actually harm your health. 
What's more, the AHA points out that heavy and regular consumption of alcohol can lead to dramatic spikes in blood pressure or even heart failure, stroke, and an irregular heartbeat. Not to mention that all alcoholic beverages are super high in sugar and will make you gain weight if you drink alcoholic beverages regularly.

8. Surely, I would notice the symptoms if I had hypertension

Hypertension Myths woman with headache
There's a reason why doctors call hypertension "the silent killer". Unfortunately, most people don't know that they have the condition until they start measuring their blood pressure regularly. In fact, it was estimated that around 11 million people in the US do not know that they have high blood pressure. It can take years of having the condition for common symptoms like feeling tired, dizzy, lightheaded, or confused to appear. Therefore, it's safest to measure your blood pressure regularly, especially if you're older or have a genetic predisposition to hypertension.

9. Once my blood pressure normalizes, I can stop taking my prescription

Hypertension Myths holding a pill
If you were diagnosed with hypertension, you'll likely be suffering from the condition for life, at least until doctors find a cure for it. Medication may bring your blood pressure back to normal, but that doesn't mean that you have to stop taking it, even if you also adjust your lifestyle and diet.
Never discontinue a blood pressure medication prescription without your doctor’s knowledge and approval. As the AHA points out on their website: “Expect to treat high blood pressure for life. Doctors will sometimes reduce a [person’s] drug dosages after achieving normal blood pressure and maintaining it for a year or more, although it is rare for the treatment to be stopped entirely. Some form of treatment must be continued over a lifetime for good results.”
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