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Doctors Say These are Signs of Hypertension, Including Chest Pain

Learn what to know about the deadly condition and if you're at risk. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Hypertension, also called high blood pressure, can quietly cause extensive damage to your body for quite some time before signs of the condition appear, which is one reason why it's a major health concern. If left untreated, hypertension can affect vital organs like your kidneys, heart and brain. It's also deadly and known as a silent killer because there's often no warning signals. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but it can damage your heart and cause health problems if it stays high for a long time." In addition, the CDC says, "Having hypertension puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States. In 2020, more than 670,000 deaths in the United States had hypertension as a primary or contributing cause."

Getting high blood pressure under control is essential for your overall health and literally could be a matter of life or death. However, most people with hypertension don't know they have it.  According to the CDC, "About 1 in 3 U.S. adults with high blood pressure aren't even aware they have it and are not being treated to control their blood pressure." Measuring your blood pressure is the only way to determine you have the condition, so keeping routine doctor visits is always recommended. While the statistics are grim, there are ways to help prevent the common condition and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with doctors who share what to know about high blood pressure and ways to help avoid the condition. 


Everyone is at Risk for Hypertension and it Can Happen at Any Age

high blood pressure

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, Urgent Care Medical Director and Physician, Carbon Health and Saint Mary's Hospital tells us, "Hypertension, also referred to as elevated blood pressure can affect anyone at any age. There are several factors that can increase your risk for developing the disease including age, family history, smoking, and living a non-active lifestyle. It is important to mention, race is a social construct that does not increase or decrease the risks of developing hypertension."

The CDC says, "High blood pressure doesn't just happen to older adults. Nearly 1 in 4 adults aged 20 to 44 have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke, a condition that is on the rise among younger people. Experts think the increased risk for stroke in this age group is a direct result of the rising rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes—conditions that are preventable and treatable."

In addition, high blood pressure has been linked to dementia, according to the CDC. "Recent studies show that high blood pressure is linked to a higher risk for dementia, a loss of cognitive function.Timing seems to matter. Evidence suggests that having uncontrolled high blood pressure during midlife (ages 44 to 66) creates a higher risk for dementia later in life. The takeaway? It's never too early to start thinking about your blood pressure and taking steps to manage your high blood pressure."


Signs of Hypertension

woman measures her blood pressure.

Dr. Curry-Winchell says, "The CDC says, a blood pressure reading of 130/80 mm Hg or higher is considered hypertension. It's important to know, some people will not experience any warning signs or classic symptoms such as chest pain, and difficulty breathing until the disease has progressed. In my practice, I share with my patients that vision changes, headache, and frequent nose bleeds are also hidden signs of high blood pressure."

Dr. Evelyn Huang, an emergency medicine resident physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital adds, "Often, people will not have symptoms from high blood pressure. However, some people may have symptoms. Symptoms can include chest pain, difficulty, breathing, and dizziness. This can be a sign of an emergency, so if anyone is having these symptoms, they should be contacting a healthcare provider. I always recommend that someone follow a primary care provider so that they are getting their blood pressure checked regularly and so that someone is following them long term."


Why Hypertension is Common

According to Dr. Curry-Winchell, "High blood pressure develops over time, and is especially common because of unhealthy lifestyle choices including poor diet, lack of exercise, etc. Most recently, the CDC says, nearly half of adults in the U.S. (47% or 116 million have hypertension related symptoms." Dr. Huang states, "Hypertension often develops over time and can be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle or genetics. People with medical conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol, are often at risk of developing high blood pressure. There are also other factors that can cause high blood pressure, such as pregnancy."

The CDC says, "High blood pressure usually develops over time. It can happen because of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as not getting enough regular physical activity. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and having obesity, can also increase the risk for developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure can also happen during pregnancy."


Why Hypertension is so Deadly

Senior lady receiving bad news about her blood pressure from her doctor

Dr. Curry-Winchell says, "Hypertension increases your risks for developing heart disease which can lead to complications such as a heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Over time elevated blood pressure will damage the arteries carrying oxygen and blood to the heart. If not treated, arteries can become stiff, reducing the amount of blood and oxygen to the heart and the rest of the body."

The Mayo Clinic says, "High blood pressure forces the heart to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body. This causes the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle) to thicken. A thickened left ventricle increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure and sudden cardiac death."

The CDC says, "High blood pressure can cause the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain to burst or be blocked, causing a stroke. Brain cells die during a stroke because they do not get enough oxygen. Stroke can cause serious disabilities in speech, movement, and other basic activities. A stroke can also kill you…Adults with diabetes, high blood pressure, or both have a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease than those without these conditions."


There's Many Things You Can Do to Help Prevent Hypertension

mature woman healthy cooking in bright kitchen, concept of best weight loss diets of 2023

Dr. Curry-Winchell emphasizes, "Fortunately, there are several things you can do. Most importantly, get a check-up with your doctor in the books. They will be able to run tests and discuss your risks for developing the disease. Also, try to invest in healthier food such as spinach, carrots, and bananas – as it's been well documented they can lower your blood pressure. Keep moving! Staying active keeps your heart strong and allows your blood to pump better throughout the body, which can help lower your overall blood pressure."

The CDC says, "Many people with high blood pressure can lower their blood pressure into a healthy range or keep their numbers in a healthy range by making lifestyle changes. Talk with your health care team about

  • Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week (about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week)
  • Not smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet, including limiting sodium (salt) and alcohol
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Managing stress"
Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather