Feature Archive

High Blood Pressure: The Invisible Health Risk

It has no symptoms, but kills 50,000 Americans a year.

By Gina Shaw
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

It's 2005: Do you know what your blood pressure should be? Within the last two years, a number of new studies have led doctors to rethink their conclusions about what defines high blood pressure (hint: it's lower than you think), and the best approaches to treating this deceptively symptom-free disease.

More than 50 million Americans aged 6 and older now have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Only one in three is keeping their blood pressure under control with medication, lifestyle measures, or both. You could be one of them and not even know it: 30% of people with hypertension have no idea they have it.

High blood pressure is easy to ignore, because it has no symptoms other than numbers on a blood pressure cuff. But its silence is deadly. Hypertension killed nearly 50,000 Americans in 2001, and the rates continue to rise, according to the American Heart Association. Uncontrolled high blood pressure puts you at risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, and a host of other problems.