One out of every three Americans is living with high blood pressure, however only half of those with the condition have it under control. Many people think high blood pressure or hypertension is a disease that comes with age, but that's not always the case.
At first glance, you would never guess that 26-year old Kayla Penniston is living with a 'silent killer.' In fact for the past five years every day has been a struggle to control her high blood pressure.
"I've been to so many doctors just trying to figure out what's going on and no one can figure it out." Said Penniston.
"It's a multi factorial problem. A lot of it's genetic and your family history, so some people are just destined to get high blood pressure." Said Dr. David Nagelhout, a cardiologist at the North Central Heart Institute.
As blood is pumped through the body it is constantly pressing against the walls of the vessels, this is blood pressure. Now a normal blood pressure reading is 120 over 80 (mmHg). So what those numbers mean is that with each heart beat, the force pushed against the vessel walls climbs to 120 as the blood is pumped out. The pressure then relaxes a bit, down to 80 as blood fills the heart and gets ready for the next beat. So what exactly is high blood pressure?
"The blood-pressure criteria has always been 140/90 and they've relaxed it a little bit in some individuals that are older so you don't have to be quite as aggressive and the criteria for them is 150/90." Said Dr. Nagelhout.
When Kayla first found out about her hypertension, the reading was well above normal.
"My blood pressure was 160/100." Said Penniston.
High blood pressure is known as the 'silent killer' because the symptoms are either very vague or non-existent. However, underneath there is more force being applied throughout Kayla's body with every single heart beat. That means every organ is working harder. So when she gets stressed her blood definitely starts to boil.
"I get nauseous dizzy, lightheaded, sometimes I faint. I just know when my blood pressure is high because I can definitely tell that I'm not feeling well." Said Penniston.
Kayla's genes played a role in her having the condition and her age makes her case unique, but not unheard of. For many others, high blood pressure often comes with age and unhealthy habits.
"So everybody needs to diet, exercise, cut down on your salt that's very important in a lot of people with high blood pressure, there's different things that you can be used besides medications and we encourage everybody to have a holistic approach to treating high blood pressure." Said Dr. Nagelhout.
Avoiding stress is tough for anyone, but through medications and healthy habits Kayla is doing her part to stay a few steps ahead of "'the silent killer.'
"I'm still going to the doctor all the time to try to figure out what's going on and why this is happening and anything I can do to figure it out and make it better." Said Penniston.
The recent change in blood pressure guidelines was made to limit the amount of unnecessary medicating but only for those older than 60. If you have high blood pressure and are uncertain about what this means for you, talk with your doctor to see if you're affected. For more information about the new blood pressure guidelines click here or call 877-AT-AVERA.