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Signs You Have a "Silent Killer" Health Problem

Be wary of these deadly diseases that don't have symptoms.

Our body can give us an indication when something is wrong by pain, fever and other signs, but there are certain diseases and health ailments that show no symptoms, but can be deadly. Annual screenings, talking with your doctor and paying attention to small changes in your health can literally be a life-saver. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who revealed hidden health problems and what you can do about them. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Heart Disease

man having heart attack

Dr. Mobola Kukoyi, a board certified ER doctor, says: "A hidden heart problem is underlying heart disease without outward symptoms. This can be problematic as it can cause severe illness and sudden death. An example of a hidden health problem is a silent heart attack, meaning a part of the heart loses blood flow but may not have the typical physical manifestations of a heart attack. So it may present as slight indigestion or acid reflux. Other hidden heart problems include atherosclerosis, which is essentially cholesterol (plaque) in the arteries, causing reduced blood flow. As it gets worse, it can manifest as decreased exercise tolerance, chest pain with exerting oneself, and eventually pain at rest. These plaques can also rupture and cause heart attacks. Decreased ability of the heart to pump, otherwise called heart failure, is also often undetected until people have symptoms such as getting tired and out of breath easily, swollen legs and so on. Heart problems can also be electrical, and can cause conduction problems called arrhythmias. They can also be structural, such as an enlarged heart septum." 


Decreasing Your Risk For Hidden Heart Problems

healthy foods

"Genetics can predispose to hidden heart problems," Dr. Kukoyi says. "For example, developing high cholesterol levels at a young age can be hereditary. However, there are several things one can do to mitigate risk. The first is to make sure you are going to your doctor for an annual physical exam. That way, you can answer questions based on family history and get appropriate screening labs. It doesn't matter how old or young you are, everyone should have a primary doctor. Lifestyle modification is also key. A healthy diet is half of the battle. So more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, less fried, fatty foods and processed foods etc. Exercise is also a must, no matter how little. So get moving, even if it is something as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevators. If you have chronic medical conditions which can predispose to hidden heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol etc, making sure the disease is controlled and keeping in close contact with your doctor is essential."

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High Blood Pressure

Doctor Checking High Blood Pressure In Face Mask

Dr. Jennifer Wong, MD, cardiologist and medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA explains, "Blood pressure is the force against the walls of our blood vessels. Higher blood pressures over time can lead to hardening of the arteries and plaque buildup within the arteries. This leads to decreased blood supply and oxygen to organs. Heart attacks can occur when there is a lack of blood flow to the heart and strokes can occur when there is a lack of blood flow to the brain. 

The systolic blood pressure is the peak pressure during a heartbeat while the heart is 'squeezing.' The diastolic blood pressure is the lowest pressure between 2 heart beats while the heart is 'relaxed'. Normal blood pressure is the pressure generated by the heart pumping that perfuses the organs without causing damage to the arteries over time.

Generally, a normal blood pressure is considered < 120/80 mmHg for most age groups. Infants and toddlers have lower normal ranges. Current guidelines set the same normal range for men and women but more recent research suggests women may be damaging blood vessels at lower blood pressures traditionally considered normal in men such as a systolic blood pressure between 110 and 119 mmHg. 

People with normal blood pressure (systolic 90-120 mmHg and diastolic 60-80 mmHg) do not need medical intervention. Healthy lifestyle including regular exercise and a healthy diet should be maintained. People with elevated blood pressure (systolic 120 to 129 mmHg and diastolic <80 mmHg) have a high probability of developing hypertension. A healthy lifestyle can help lower the blood pressure, preventing the development and complications of hypertension.

Stage 1 hypertension (systolic 130 to 139 mmHg or diastolic 80 to 89 mmHg) is also treated with a healthy lifestyle initially. Medications may be needed if the blood pressure falls in this range on multiple readings for those with other cardiovascular risk factors.

Stage 2 hypertension (systolic at least 140 mmHg or diastolic at least 90 mmHg) is generally treated with medications. A healthy lifestyle is just as important for preventing the complications of hypertension."

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Hypertensive Crisis

woman having problem with Bell's Palsy/Facial Palsy, hand holding her face

Dr. Wong says, "A hypertensive crisis occurs when the blood pressure rises quickly with systolic blood pressures > 180 mmHg or diastolic blood pressures > 120 mmHg. Immediate organ damage can occur and emergency treatment should be sought if there are symptoms of stroke, headache, visual changes, dizziness, chest pain, or shortness of breath.

Hypertension has been described as a 'silent killer' as often there are no symptoms while causing significant damage to the heart, kidneys, brain, eyes and blood vessels. Cardiovascular complications of heart disease include heart failure, ischemic heart disease, stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage. The risk of death from heart disease or stroke doubles for every 20 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure or 10 mmHg increase in diastolic blood pressure."

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​​How to Help Prevent Hypertension

group of women doing stretching exercises before intensive workout in spacious fitness studio

"A healthy lifestyle can help prevent some of the damage that can occur with hypertension as well as help lower blood pressure to some extent," Dr. Wong explains. "Helpful habits include limiting salt intake to 2.3 grams of sodium per day, participating in moderate intensity aerobic exercise 150 minutes per week, and limiting alcohol intake. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet has also been shown to reduce blood pressure. This is a diet high in vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts and low in sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats. The diet is rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber but low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol."

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High Cholesterol

high cholesterol

Dr. Wong states, "Cholesterol in itself has no symptoms just the way high blood pressure (unless very high) has no symptoms. The only 'symptoms' cholesterol can be associated with would be the late symptoms when the excessive cholesterol accumulation is responsible for heart and blood vessel damage and blockage causing chest pain (angina), a heart attack, or even sudden death! The cholesterol guidelines published by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and the National Lipid Association call that a false statement. For those of us who have not had any cardiovascular problems, the LDL-cholesterol ( the "bad" cholesterol) should be less than 100 mg/dl. But if you have heart or vascular disease (history of a heart attack, stroke , or other arterial vascular disease), and especially if you have diabetes, the LDL-cholesterol target should be less than 70 mg/dl if not lower. The first group is called primary prevention ( to avoid even a first cardiovascular episode), but the second group has declared themselves as higher risk because they have already had a problem, and they should be treated more aggressively and that's called 'secondary prevention.'"

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How to Treat High Cholesterol

fit woman exercising at home with weights

"There is so much that can be done with an abnormally high cholesterol level," Dr. Wong says. "Diet and exercise are always first steps and remain extremely important. Statins have been very effective in lowering cholesterol and are safe and have been around since 1987 with the newer statins associated with improved efficacy, safety, and less side effects. The newer injectable PCSK-9 inhibitors have also been shown to dramatically lower cholesterol to levels that we've not seen before and are also very safe with an extremely favorable low side effect profile." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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
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