We’ve all been to the doctor and had a nurse take our blood pressure. The nurse puts the cuff on, places the stethoscope on the crook of the elbow and starts pumping the cuff up. No big deal, right? Well, not necessarily the case if you have hypertension—commonly known as high blood pressure.
Hypertension is a huge issue, affecting more than 100 million adults in the United States. It can also lead to a host of other problems if it is left unchecked. Jason Hatch, MD, an interventional cardiologist with the CardioVascular Institute of Northern Colorado, explains how serious the condition can be for men.
Hypertension in men
Simply put, blood pressure is the pressure your blood puts on the walls of your blood vessels as it circulates through the body. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg) and is recorded as one number over another.
As a refresher, the first number is the systolic pressure—the pressure when your heart beats. The second number is the diastolic pressure and is a measurement of pressure in between beats.
A good blood pressure would be below 120/80 mm Hg. When it goes above 130/80, you are considered stage 1 hypertensive. Stage 2 hypertension would be 140/90 and above.
Dr. Hatch notes that blood pressure always fluctuates, and it can increase with stress or during exercise. You probably wouldn’t be diagnosed with high blood pressure until after you have been checked a few times.
For men, the bad news is they are more likely to be found hypertensive than women.
Dr. Hatch says the risk factors that cannot be changed include:
- Gender—men are more likely to develop hypertension than women
- Race—African-Americans have higher risk than other races
- Age—the older you get the more likely you will develop high blood pressure
- Family history—Dr. Hatch notes high blood pressure is twice as common in people with 1 or 2 hypertensive parents
- Chronic kidney disease—people with chronic kidney disease are at a greater risk for high blood pressure
Additionally, there are some risk factors that you can control. Those include:
- An unhealthy diet that is also high in sodium
- Not exercising
- Being overweight
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Smoking or using tobacco
- Having diabetes
Once a man is diagnosed with hypertension, he will need to get treatment. Dr. Hatch says leaving high blood pressure untreated can cause kidney disease, coronary artery disease, lung disease, heart failure and stroke. It’s also one of the biggest contributors to cardiovascular disease and peripheral artery disease, according to Dr. Hatch.
Dr. Hatch says a key component to treating hypertension is making lifestyle changes, such as diet, weight loss and exercise. Dr. Hatch recommends the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
“You should start with DASH diet and address risk factors,” Dr. Hatch said. “The DASH diet substitutes magnesium and potassium for saturated fat, sodium and sugar. Everyone should be doing this.”
With stage 1 hypertension, you can expect your doctor to recommend changing your diet, losing weight and exercise. Dr. Hatch says this alone can have a good impact on your blood pressure, but he estimates that around 80% of his patients still need medication to help.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with stage 2 hypertension, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes and medication. Some of the medications your doctor may consider include diuretics, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs).
In some cases where the patient has certain diseases, a doctor will automatically prescribe medications. Dr. Hatch notes these diseases include diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.
Hypertension and stroke
It is critical that you get your blood pressure under control. As Dr. Hatch mentioned, it can lead to several other conditions—including stroke.
For men who have had years of uncontrolled high blood pressure, the risk for stroke increases. Dr. Hatch explains that hypertension leads to a build up of plaque in the arteries leading to the brain. This build up of plaque is called atherosclerosis, and hypertension can make blood vessels more prone to it by damaging the lining of the arteries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone suffers from a stroke every 40 seconds in the United States. The CDC also reports that someone dies from a stroke almost every 4 minutes.
The good news is, if you have hypertension, it doesn’t mean the damage is done, according to Dr. Hatch. With significant weight loss and living a healthy life, you can get off medications to control hypertension.
The most important thing for anyone—man or woman, young or old—is to know your numbers.
“Have a regular conversation with your doctor about your blood pressure,” Dr. Hatch said. “If you've known about high blood pressure and not had it treated, it can cause some serious problems. Knowing about your blood pressure is the number 1 modifiable risk factor to help prevent stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease.”