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7 Myths About High Blood Pressure

Dongwan (Nora) Zhu, MS, RD
January 23, 2023
March 6, 2023

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects around 45% of adults in the United States. However, only about 1 in 4 adults (24%) have it under control. Having hypertension puts you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States. It's so common and so important, but there is still a lot of misinformation out there. Here are seven common myths associated with hypertension.

Myth #1: I would notice symptoms if my blood pressure is high.

Not really! High blood pressure is known as the "silent killer" because most people who have it don’t have any symptoms. Some people may experience headaches, chest pain, or shortness of breath with the high blood pressure but these signs and symptoms may only occur until the blood pressure has reached a dangerous level. Checking blood pressure is the only way to determine whether it is high or not.

Myth #2: Hypertension is not a serious disease.

False! Even though high and elevated blood pressure often have no symptoms, long-term high blood pressure can cause serious damage to the body if left untreated.

  • Damage to the arteries: high blood pressure increases the pressure of blood flowing through the arteries and damages the inner lining cells of the arteries.
  • Damage to the heart: high blood pressure increases risks for coronary artery disease such as chest pain, irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or a heart attack. High blood pressure also causes the heart to work harder and may lead to an enlarged heart or even heart failure.
  • Damage to the brain: sustained high blood pressure causes damage to the blood vessels. Narrowed or clogged blood vessels in the brain can block the blood flow to the brain cells and lead to stroke.
  • Damage to the kidney: high blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney failure in the United States.

Myth #3: High blood pressure runs in my family so there is nothing I can do to prevent it.

False! It is important to know that a family history of high blood pressure does not mean you will have high blood pressure, but it does increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. Besides genetic factor, a family likely shares a similar environmental factor such as lifestyle or diet, which also increase their risks. If you do have a family history of high blood pressure, here are things you could do to reduce the risks:

  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly to make sure it's in the normal range;
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern, use less salt, participate in physical activity regularly, lose weight if needed, and quit smoking.

Myth #4: My doctor always checks my blood pressure so I don’t need to check it at home.

False! You may not be seeing the whole picture. The American Heart Association recommends home monitoring for all people with high blood pressure to help the healthcare provider determine whether treatments are working.

When you check your blood pressure at the same times every day, you may get a clearer idea of how your blood pressure rises and falls over time. When you check your blood pressure multiple times per day, you will learn how different triggers in your daily life may cause small but regular rises in your blood pressure on a regular basis.

Checking blood pressure multiple times per day at home will also help to catch your blood pressure patterns at times of the day when your blood pressure medications may be beginning to wear off. Read this article to see how often you need to check your blood pressure.

Myth #5: I do not use table salt, so I can eat any food I want.

False! American Dietary Guideline recommends limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg or less per day. Table salt is not the biggest sodium contributor in the American diet. In fact, the majority of our daily sodium intake comes from processed foods and restaurant foods. More than 70% of the sodium we consume is hidden in products like canned soups, cold cuts and cured meats, condiments, pizza, snacks like potato chips and pretzels. When purchasing processed or packaged foods, comparing the nutrition label and choosing the ones with lower sodium content can help decrease sodium intake. Read this article for ways to add more flavor without the salt.

Myth #6: My blood pressure is within the normal range with medication, I can stop taking it now.

False! Blood pressure medications oftentimes take time before they start working, and also take time to leave your system when you stop taking them. If you’re feeling fine on a medication, that is most-likely because it is doing it’s job correctly.

When you stop a medication, blood pressure is likely to gradually rise again. Many people don’t feel symptoms of high blood pressure, so even when you feel fine, your blood pressure may still be elevated and causing stress to your heart.

Taking medication will help you control your blood pressure and it may raise again if you stop taking it. Follow your healthcare professional's recommendation carefully and discuss with your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your treatments.

Myth #7: White-Coat Hypertension doesn't exist

False! White coat hypertension occurs when your blood pressure in the doctor’s office is higher than that at home.

White coat hypertension is a very common phenomenon, and occurs in around 14% of patients not on medications. It may cause a provider to over-treat a patient if not confirmed by frequent home readings. This can also be called ‘pseudo’ or ‘false’ hypertension.

There is another common misdiagnosis type to watch out for: Masked Hypertension. Masked Hypertension appears more commonly, in around 30% of the population. It occurs when blood pressure in the doctor’s office is normal, or lower than the patient’s home readings. This may lead to a patient taking less medications than they need.

If you have more question regarding blood pressure or hypertension, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your Unified Care team.