Combating Myths about Hypertension

Despite the availability of accurate and reliable information online, many myths about hypertension persist.

The Internet has been a boon for patients (or are they “health care consumers?”) who want to learn more about their health and research various diseases and conditions. However, as our readers surely know by now, the Internet has also been the worst thing that could ever happen to hypochondriacs, the illiterate/innumerate, and the credulous. Misinformation, misinterpretation of data, sales pitches for dubious products backed by even more dubious science, and other assorted forms of buncombe abound online.

Yet, despite years of effort by physicians, educators, and other advocates to warn patients that they should always, ALWAYS check the source of any information they find online, myths and misunderstandings about the symptoms, effects, causes, and treatments of many diseases have continued to spread as patients read and then act on the false or misleading information they find online.

Hypertension is but one example of this. Despite the wealth of reliable and accurate information that is available online from some of the most highly trusted names in medicine, too many patients still underestimate the seriousness of this condition and continue to believe potentially dangerous myths about it that can have serious consequences for their health.

To help combat misinformation about hypertension, we’ve compiled this collection of resources from top health care information and patient education sites.

Claim: Hypertension Is an Asymptomatic Disease

Because “the majority of people with hypertension in the United States have stage 1 or 2 (mild or moderate) hypertension” and may experience few or no symptoms early on, the first symptom of untreated or inadequately-treated hypertension “might be a disabling stroke or possibly a fatal heart attack.” Patients are reminded that “for many hypertensive individuals, these major cardiovascular events are preventable with aggressive, optimal treatment and long-term control,” making early screening and detection a must.

Source: The Cleveland Clinic

Claim: Normal Systolic Blood Pressure Equals 100 Years Plus Your Age

We’ve seen this one around online from time to time, too. Until a decade ago, this statement was “a commonly quoted assumption regarding the natural history of blood pressure with aging. It suggested that a systolic blood pressure of 170 was normal in a 70-year-old individual.” This is of course totally false. There is ample data supporting “treatment of systolic blood pressure down to 150 mm Hg in older hypertensive people;” in fact, the marker is an appropriate initial goal in most older patients with [ischemic heart disease]. For many, a blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg represents an appropriate treatment goal.”

Source: The Cleveland Clinic

Claim: If My Blood Pressure Were Too High, I Could Feel It

Apparently there are quite a few people out there who think that if their heart rate is normal then that must mean that their blood pressure is normal, too. But, of course, “how fast your heart beats is not necessarily an indication of how high your blood pressure is.” Thus, patients should be aware that “the only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to get your blood pressure checked by your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider. Know your blood pressure readings and find out how often you should have it checked.”

Source: The Heart and Stroke Foundation

Claim: High Blood Pressure is Always Caused by a Poor Diet and Lack of Activity

Nope. Patients are reminded that although there are several diet and lifestyle factors that can certainly increase their risk of high blood pressure (including eating too much salt, not getting enough regular physical activity, and being overweight or obese), some of the risk factors for high blood pressure are things that they cannot control, such as age (“about half of people over the age of 65 have high blood pressure”); family history of high blood pressure; and ethnicity (“high blood pressure is more common among people who are of African, South Asian or First Nations, Inuit or Métis heritage”).

Source: The Heart and Stroke Foundation