Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease, which affects nearly 70 million adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This adds up to one in three adults! In addition to people with hypertension, the CDC states that one in three adults is living with elevated blood pressure or prehypertension. Prehypertension is not hypertension, but the blood pressure levels are above what is considered normal.
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood against your blood vessel walls. When your blood pressure is taken, two numbers are noted. The top number is the systolic reading. This measures the pressure when your heart pushes blood out. The bottom number is the diastolic reading, which measures the pressure when your heart is relaxed between beats and is not pumping any blood. If the blood pressure is high, it means that your heart is pumping the blood through your arteries very fast. This excessive force causes damage to the smooth lining of blood vessel walls, resulting in areas where fatty plaque (made of fat, cholesterol and other substances) can build up and make a bump. The bump gets bigger as more plaque sticks to it. The long-term effect of this is that the blood vessels collect a significant amount of fatty plaque, which diminishes or stops blood flow. This can occur anywhere in the body. In some people, the plaque bump will rupture and cause a traveling blood clot.
What Causes Hypertension?
The exact causes of hypertension are not known. Several factors increase the risk of having high blood pressure such as high salt intake, smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity, significant alcohol consumption, stress, age and, of course, genetics. A recent study showed that only half of Americans with hypertension have it under control. A contributing factor to this is that hypertension is usually not something you feel. Most people do not know when their blood pressure increased and need to have their blood pressure checked to even know if they are within normal limits or not.
Hypertension and Hearing Loss
If an individual has high blood pressure, the blood vessels are damaged all over the body. This includes the vessels that carry blood to the ears. Studies show that people who have an increase in blood pressure have a higher rate of hearing loss. If the blood pressure stays high for a long period of time, it will permanently damage the hearing organs. For a person who has high blood pressure for a short time, the hearing may return to normal once the blood pressure is lowered. Because hearing loss affects quality of life, it is important to address the underlying cause of hearing loss rather than simply putting hearing aids on someone as the hearing continues to worsen.
Hypertension and Stroke
There is a high correlation between hypertension and the incidence of a first stroke. Eight out of 10 people having a first stroke also have hypertension, making it extremely important for a person with hypertension to seek medical attention. This fact also shows us that a yearly well visit examination with a primary care physician is important to manage your health, even if you feel good.
Sudden Change in Hearing
The American Heart Association published an article about the relationship between sudden hearing loss and hypertension. Researchers found that there is a clear correlation between sudden change in hearing and blood pressure. The exact specifics are not well understood yet, but a sudden change in hearing is a significant warning flag and should not be ignored. This study showed that a person with sudden severe hearing loss was 150 percent more likely to experience a stroke within two years of the change in hearing.
The body changes as individuals age, making it important to have routine medical checkups even if you feel fine. The physician can help you manage your changing body and keep you informed of anything that may need attention before it causes significant disability. Part of the well visit examination will be focused on your history and family history of diseases. Physicians will check blood pressure, check for diabetes and cholesterol levels, as well as any physical concerns you have. You can ask for vision and hearing exams as well. Stay informed about your physical and hearing health to maintain the best quality of life. QCBN
By Karon Lynn, Au.D.